Many sports fans likely would agree that professional football has become one of the roughest, most physically demanding modern-day sports. So it’s hard to imagine that in the early days of the game, players stepped out onto the field wearing little or no protective gear.
Fortunately, football safety has come a long way, thanks in large part to tough but lightweight plastics that help absorb shock and cushion blows on the field. Since the Riddell Company introduced the first plastic helmet in 1939, plastics have become the material of choice for protecting football players from head to toe.
Here are some examples of modern football safety gear that depend on plastics:
- Helmet: Today’s football helmets typically are made with an outer shell of durable polycarbonate plastic, the same material used for bullet-resistant windows. The interior of the helmet often features plastic foam pads to absorb crash energy and cushion the player’s head.
- Mouth Guard: To help safeguard the player’s mouth and teeth, mouth guards made with soft, flexible, and tough plastics conform to the shape of the player’s teeth, providing lightweight, comfortable protection throughout the game.
- Body padding: Body padding for the shoulders, hips, tailbone, thighs, and knees typically is made with a mix of hard plastics for impact resistance and soft plastic fabrics to absorb shock and provide a secure fit.
- Pants and Jersey: Today’s professional football uniform is made with high-performance plastic fabrics such as nylon and spandex. Not only are these quick-drying materials comfortable to wear during hot and sweaty games, but they also fit snugly to keep padding in place and to make it more difficult for opposing players to grab the uniform.
- Cleats: Lightweight yet sturdy plastic cleats help grip the turf, making it easier for a player to maneuver on the field. Many modern cleats feature lightweight plastic foam inserts that help disperse cleat impact pressure for greater comfort during the game.
Plastics continue to enable ongoing innovations in football safety gear. As athletes get bigger, stronger, and more competitive, safety gear has become increasingly more advanced.
So what might we see in the future? In one example, a helmet maker recently integrated Kevlar and carbon fiber-reinforced plastics into a helmet’s outer shell. These high-performance materials often are associated with military and police safety equipment. They can provide improved shock absorption and durability and create a lighter weight helmet to reduce stress on the player’s head and neck.