“You don’t really notice it until someone makes fun of you.”
This was New York Giants player Blake Martinez referring to the NFL’s new “Guardian Hats,” the padded shell attached to their helmets on the outside. In all pre-season training until the second pre-season game of the new season, all offensive linemen, defensive linemen, tight ends and linebackers are required to wear a Guardian hat.
The helmets provide additional impact protection during the period when the league is experiencing the greatest concentration of helmet impacts. When worn, the NFL says, the Guardian Cap results in “at least 10 percent reduction in impact intensity if worn by one player, and at least 20 percent reduction in impact if worn by two players.”
“Everyone wants to swing nowadays, and when you have a big airbag on top of your helmet, you’ll notice a little bit,” Martinez added.
But if it means more protection, he’ll take it.
“Anything that can protect your brain,” he said, “especially for me, I want to make this thing last as long as possible, so I’m frustrated.”
Giants coach Brian Dabol also supports the new hats.
“The health and safety of players is our number one priority as an organization – making sure these people are as healthy as possible and as safe as possible,” Daboll said. “Whatever the doctors, coaches and statistics say, if it helps the players, I’m all for it.”
The idea of caps relates to the cumulative effects of strikes over an entire season. From the layman’s perspective, this means that being hit on the head multiple times each week for 17 weeks can result in long-term head injuries to players. The league says the hats are made possible “due to the vast amount of data collected and analyzed from the NFL stadium that helps the league understand and simulate head injury biomechanics in a lab setting.”
In March 2022, the NFL clubs voted and passed a resolution on the requirement. This vote came after study and recommendations by the Competition Committee and the Owners Health and Safety Advisory Committee, as well as consultation with head coaches across the league.
Gates coach Robert Saleh and Cardinals defensive end JJ Watt have voiced criticism over the league’s use of Guardian Hats on helmets at training camp this summer.
“It has great benefits…but I think there’s a balance in everything, right? Too much of anything is a bad thing. I think because of the soft hit, it kind of lends players to use their heads a little bit more. I think the first time when they take it off — Anyone who has played football knows that the first time you take off your helmet or hit the helmet or crash — there was a shock,” Saleh told MMQB.
“I think if you wait until the first game for that shock to happen… I don’t know, time will tell. It’s very interesting with the Guardian Hats and what exactly are we trying to achieve,” Saleh continued.
JJ Watt expressed similar concerns when he spoke with reporters at the Cardinals camp.
“I mean, I think you know what I think of our Guardian hats,” Watt said. “You feel like a bird’s head. As if you are going to fall. I will probably be fined for this.”
Could the caps become legal on a larger scale? It probably depends on what the data shows after this year’s use.