New York – American Football’s governing body, the NFL (National Football League), has this week rejected Guardian Caps for regulation play. Players will still be allowed to wear the safety caps during practice.
Guardian Caps are closed-cell PU foam shells that are worn over a traditional American football helmet. They were invented in 2010 by Erin and Lee Hanson, co-owners of Hanson Groupf a Georgia-based systems house and specialty amines manufacturer. They are now made by Hanson’s Guardian Sports division.
The NFL was initially sceptical about the caps because they would change the look and sound of the game – the clash of metallic helmets was thought to be part of the appeal to spectators. But in 2017 Guardian received a grant from the NFL as part of its Head Health Tech innovation challenge, which aimed to stimulate development of player safety equipment.
In the intervening years, biomechanical engineers from the NFL and the NFL players’ association collaborated with Guardian Sports to create a cap specifically designed to withstand the impacts experienced by professional American Football players.
In the summer of 2022, the use of Guardian Caps became mandatory for offensive linesmen, defensive linesmen, linebackers and tight ends for all teams in the league during training camps. NFL claims the start of training camp is the time with the greatest concentration of helmet impacts.
Data on the caps’ efficacy was collected through mouthguard sensors that measured the impacts players experience. The data showed the severity of an impact was reduced by at least 10% when a player wearing a cap collided with a player wearing a bare helmet. If both players were wearing the caps, the severity of an impact was reduced by at least 20%.
Many players remain sceptical, though they concede that the caps don’t impede their performance on the field. Talking to the Washington Post, Arizona Cardinals defensive end JJ Watt said he felt ‘like a bobblehead’ when wearing the cap. Washington Commanders defensive tackle, Jonathan Allen, gave the paper a curt ‘no comment’.
Despite the impressive results, fan satisfaction (and perhaps players’ pride) has won over protection from injury. The thwack of metal on metal from the collision of helmets will continue to reverberate across the gridiron fields of the US through the upcoming season. And while the caps were mandatory for some players this summer, in future it will be optional at the training camps.