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A Brief History of Football Safety Equipment (INFOGRAPHIC)

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

Football consistently ranks as one of the most injury-prone sports. From concussions to tissue injuries, football comes with more than a few health concerns for parents, coaches, and players. The good news is that proper equipment can go a long way in keeping players safe.

As we’re in the midst of the Texas football season, let’s take a closer look at just how far football equipment safety has come over the years with this infographic

Helmet Development

When football was first played in 1869, helmets were not used. By the 1920s, players had soft leather helmets. Still, it wasn’t until the 1940s that helmets became mandatory (officially adopted by the NFL in 1949) and that manufacturers shifted from leather to plastic. By 1980, molded polycarbonate shells replaced hard plastic. Today, helmets have been designed to reduce concussions. Learn how to fit a football helmet.

Shoulder Pads

Shoulder pads were a part of the game before the official start of the NFL. In the 1920s, leather and padding was often sewn into the shirt. In the 1930s, pads separated from the shirt, covering the shoulders and chest. In the 1960s, plastic replaced leather. By the 2000s, shoulder pads had become much more sophisticated; synthetic fibers became commonplace, making pads lighter and more breathable.

Face Mask

In the 1920s, helmets lacked a bar or face mask. In the 1950s, manufacturers added a single bar across the face, which was used by all NFL players by the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that full face masks were introduced. In the 1980s, protective visors became a part of the uniform. By the 2000s, the NFL had banned the use of single bar face masks. (Surprisingly, mouth guards are not mandatory in the NFL.)

Pants Padding

Pants padding was first introduced in the 1920s. It wasn’t until 2014, though, that the NFL made thigh/knee pads mandatory.

For more football injury resources, view:

Schedule With Dr. Rosemary Buckle

For other Houston sports medicine needs, schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics by calling (713) 756-5546.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.