How to Improve Safety in the NFL: Ban helmets.


Percy Harvin, wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, will not play in today’s  Super Bowl-determining game with the San Francisco 49ers.


If you watched last week’s game against the New Orleans Saints – you know why.


Early in the game, Saints safety Rafael Bush used his body like a Harvin-seeking missile and destroyed his target. Harvin was hit so hard his mouthpiece ended up 10 yards from his mouth.


Harvin’s brain smashed into the side of his skull.

He got a concussion.


Rafael Bush was fined $21,000.

His teammates and coaches congratulated him.


30 days ago this sliver of an NFL game would have gone unnoticed by me.

This sort of thing happens every game.


But I recently read League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. It’s a fantastic, important book about the brain damage factory known as the NFL.



It’s no surprise that if you get hit in the head for a living, there’s a good chance the repeated noggin-pounding may result in negative long-term effects.


So how do you improve safety conditions in the field?


This exact question is asked as often on the gridiron as it is on your jobsite.


It starts with the gear.

Personal protective equipment in the field.

Helmets on the field.


However, better safety gear must be coupled with the same active vigilance of the risks.


The gear may be better.

But the risks are the same.

Otherwise better safety gear results in more injuries.


That’s what we see in the NFL.

Better helmets result in more players like Rafael Bush using their heads like missiles.


Want to improve Safety in the NFL? 

Ban helmets.


The $21,000 fines are a joke.

Those don’t alter behavior.


You know what will?

200,000 years of survival instinct.

It’s hard to run at someone as hard as you can & bury your head into theirs.

Unless you are wearing a helmet.


Your survival instinct prohibits this behavior. Evolution has drained the gene pool of people who behaved like this.


Helmets represent a false sense of security.

But banning football helmets seems idiotic at first glance.

It’s a dangerous game.


What kind of ridiculous game with these dangers wouldn’t try to protect players’ heads?


Rugby, for one.

Rugby produces less concussions than football.

And soccer.




Rugby players don’t use their heads to pound people (football) or a speeding ball (soccer).

We need to use our heads more if we truly want to improve safety.


Incentives matter.

If the NFL prefers a monetary penalty, increase the fine.

$500,000 per hit.


Rafael Bush made $550,000 this year.

I’m guessing a $500,000 penalty for an illegal hit would alter his behavior.


Then add that money to the absurdly low $765M the league has designated to help the ex-players and their families deal with brain damage.     


In dangerous settings, whether it’s the football field or the construction site, safety gear alone won’t reduce injuries. Consistently behaving safely reduces injuries.

Think removing helmets altogether is too drastic?

Fine – let’s go back to wearing leather.




Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (, a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry.    

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Categories: Jobsite Leadership

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1 reply


  1. Eliminating Gravity to Improve Safety and Productivity. « the red angle

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