Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Baseball Helmets: Safety vs. Helmets [J. Mark English]

As athletes progress, so do safety features in sports equipment. Unfortunately sometimes the safe enhances in the technology of equipment does not always look appealing to athletes. The New York Times' David Waldstein examines this issue:

Three weeks after absorbing the potentially deadly impact of a 93-mile-per-hour fastball on his batting helmet, Edgar Gonzalez still feels dizzy whenever he lies down. Because of the lingering effects of a concussion, Gonzalez, a second baseman for the San Diego Padres, has not played since that experience. When he finally returns, it may be with the newest protective device that could one day come to define the look of a major league batter.

Rawlings is about to introduce its newest batting helmet, the S100, a bulkier but far more protective helmet that can withstand the impact of a 100-m.p.h. fastball, according to Rawlings and an independent testing organization. Most other models, when hit flush by a ball, are compromised at speeds in excess of 70 m.p.h.

As helpful as the new helmet may be, there is resistance to it from some major league players who are not prepared to sacrifice comfort and style for added protection. Gonzalez is not among them. “After this happened to me, I would wear anything,” he said. “I don’t care how goofy it is, as long as it could help protect me.”

Gonzalez and others who choose to wear the new model could become pioneers like Ron Santo, one of the first to wear a batting helmet with an earflap, or Jacques Plante, the first hockey goalie to wear a face mask on a regular basis.

Major league players are a fearless and traditional bunch, and for many any kind of change, even for the sake of safety, is anathema.

“No, I am absolutely not wearing that,” Mets right fielder Jeff Francoeur said with a laugh after seeing a prototype, as if he were being asked to put a pumpkin on his head. “I could care less what they say, I’m not wearing it. There’s got to be a way to have a more protective helmet without all that padding. It’s brutal. We’re going to look like a bunch of clowns out there.”

Among a small, informal sampling of players, several said they would likely stick with their current model, even though the S100 has been proven more effective in independent laboratory testing. In the eyes of some major league players, it’s just too bulky, too heavy and too geeky-looking.

“I want a helmet that’s comfortable,” Athletics infielder Nomar Garciaparra said, “and that doesn’t look bad.”

Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira said the new helmet would make him feel as if he were wearing a football helmet in the batter’s box.

“The one I’ve used for my entire career is fine,” he said.

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