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A History of Football Equipment and Player Safety

Football has evolved over the years from meager beginnings as a way for colleges to engage other schools in sport, to the multi-billion dollar, international marketing juggernaut that it is today.

Since its humble beginnings in the 1870’s, pretty much everything has changed along the road to the game we know and love today. Official game rules, ownership rights, player conduct, and most importantly equipment have all changed as the game became more popular and more advanced.

Sports Injury Statistics

As a fairly barbaric sport involving smashing the daylights out of someone to retrieve a small leather covered ball, football is no doubt one of the more risky sports to play as it relates to injury. A recent report by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics of children aged 5-14, indicates emergency room visits across common sports. Football leads the list with roughly 215,000 reported incidents yearly, with bicycling, baseball, basketball, and soccer rounding out the top 5.

Players are Getting Bigger

Equipment in particular was forced to change as players became faster, stronger, and taller resulting in a much more injury prone game today than possibly 100 years ago. Try to imagine over 300 lbs. of amped up, angry linebacker looking to decimate your very existence, play after play…you get the idea.

According to a Grand Valley State University study conducted by Jeffrey Potteiger, dean of graduate Studies and professor of movement science and Anthony Anzell, a bio medical science graduate, the size of professional football players from 1942-2011 increased ¼ to ¾ lbs. A more staggering statistic is that college players increased on average of ¼ to 1¼ lbs. per year since 1942 amounting to roughly 60 lbs. per player on average.

Potteiger notes that 20 years ago where there may have been a single professional player on a team in the 40’s weighing more than 300 lbs, it is now common to have offensive linemen weighing north of 350 lbs.

A Need for Better Equipment

As the game continues growing and increase its fan base exponentially, players, coaches, and teams will do what it takes to gain an advantage in an effort to with. Now with more emphasis on player safety in the wake of recent allegations of traumatic brain injury caused by hits to the head whilst playing football, equipment companies, along with the NFL are looking to develop safer gear from helmets down to shoes.

Here’s a quick info graphic on how football players and their equipment have changed since the game’s inception in the late 1800’s.

History of football equipment safety

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