What is the most important part of athletes’ bodies? Is it their arms? Their legs? Does it vary depending on the focus and parameter of the respective sport? No! The most important part of any athlete (and any person, for that matter) is the head! Contained within every person’s head is a massive network of nerves known collectively as the brain, an organ without which existence would be impossible! It is the brain that empowers people to think, move, live and, naturally, play sports! But with only about a quarter-inch thick skull standing between the preciously fragile brain and the outside world, and given how intense and dangerous some sports can be, sometimes more protection around the cranium is a necessary safety measure! Here are some of the various types of headgear protection that can be found in today’s popular sports, and how they provide an extra line of defense for their respective activity’s happenings.
Baseball: The Batter’s Plastic Hat and the Catcher’s Mask
While generally among the less recognized “rough” sports of the modern world, baseball is not exactly a calm walk in the park! Every pitch has a ball comprised mainly of rubber, cork, and or cowhide – all materials not so gentle, particularly when launched from the pitcher’s mound at 80-100 miles per hour! The two players that come closest to this in a baseball game are the batter from the opposing team and the defending team’s catcher, and without the proper headgear, a missed catch or wild pitch could potentially do more than simply ruin a person’s day.
Designs for protective batting headgear began early in the 20th Century. Though early renditions were crudely made of softer, less durable materials (and did little to dependably protect a player’s whole head) the plastic batting helmet evolved some time later and is still in mainstream use (some modifications and improvements are periodically made over time). As can clearly be seen by its design, the modern batting helmet functions as a shield for batter against wild or erratic pitches. Full body armor for batters is absent in mainstream baseball play, but this helmet has, at least, worked as a more fortuitous defense against head injuries in baseball.
Though somewhat different in appearance and overall structure, the role of the catcher’s mask in baseball is comparable to that of the batter’s helmet. By design, the catcher’s mask provides much more frontal protection than the batter’s helmet, usually featuring a wireframe faceguard and reinforced coverage over the ears and forehead. The catcher’s helmet even covers a significant portion of a player’s throat, something the traditional batting helmet lacks. Given the catcher’s duty to stand directly in the path of incoming pitches throughout the game, sufficient protection is predictable and necessary.
American Football: Heavy-duty Head Protection
American football is one of the most popular contact sports in the United States today, and with so much coarse contact between players, protection of sensitive regions is more critical than ever. The headgear employed in the National Football League features a thick shell of protection around every player’s entire head, excluding the front (which is covered by a facemask of metal bars). Football helmets must light enough that they do not bog players down too severely, but also made of a durable, protective material to be effective. The inside of typical football helmets is lined with thick padding, which absorbs kinetic pressure and impact forces, and provides the player with comfort around the skull.
Racing: Auto-racing Helmets vs. Cycling Helmets
Helmets in sports that involve racing and vehicles can be among the most instrumental in protecting competitors. In automotive racing, drivers wear helmets for additional insurance. Vehicle collisions are not uncommon and augmented hazardously by the customary breakneck speeds at which most auto races take place. In the modern world, everything that goes into a motor racing helmet is designed for the nastiest imaginable event on the roadway. They often share similar designs with motorcycle helmets, including padded interior and eye-coverage. Other design choices are unique, like fire protection.
Cycling helmets afford significantly less protection than their counterparts, but most athletes, no matter how conditioned, will not be pedaling a bicycle at 100+ miles per hour! Cycling helmets are compact, light, and specifically designed not to impair cyclists’ vision. As a result, most of the protection provided encompasses the top and upper-sides of the head. While, at a glance, not the choicest protection in an accident, bicycle helmets certainly absorb some of the damage that could be caused by a crash and this protection is always better than none at all!