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NFL Bombshell: Players Can Now Wear Guardian Caps in Games

Last August, NFL Senior VP Jeff Miller, appearing on the NFL Network’s  Good Morning Football show, was asked if Guardian Caps — the padded over-the-helmet accessories that linemen, linebackers, tight ends, and running backs have been wearing during contact practices — might ever be worn in games. “I think that day could come,” he said.

That day may be coming a lot sooner than any of us expected.

During a recent webinar, NFL Chief Administrative Officer Dawn Aponte said that the Guardian Cap practice mandate was being expanded this year to all players except quarterbacks, kickers, and punters, and then added this bombshell: “But then also there is the option for a player to wear it in the game if he so chooses.”

After Aponte finished her statement, the webinar’s host,  NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills, said, “So we might actually see a Guardian Cap on a player in a game this year,” to which Aponte nodded her assent. (The exchange can be seen at the 37:45 mark of this video.)

The NFL confirmed all of that today:


Of course, just because a Guardian Cap can be worn in a game doesn’t mean it will be worn in a game. Peer pressure, social media razzing, and the NFL’s so-called “warrior mentality” being what they are, I suspect it would take a lot of courage for a player to be the pioneer on this front.

That said, there was once a time when it was unthinkable for hockey goalies to wear masks, for other hockey players to wear helmets, for football players to wear facemasks, for baseball players to wear C-flaps, and so on. The history of sports is generally one of increased head protection that initially seems radical but soon becomes normalized. It’s not inconceivable that the same thing could happen with Guardian Caps. At least one high school team — Park High in Minnesota — already wears them in games.

There’s precedent for NFL over-the-helmet accessories. Back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Mark Kelso and Steve Wallace wore the ProCap, but that never caught on with other players:

Unlike the ProCap, the Guardian Cap does not have a smooth surface (and is reportedly much more effective), so what might that mean from an aesthetic standpoint? Would in-game NFL Guardian Caps feature logos and stripes? Would they at least match a team’s helmet shell color? I’ve emailed the NFL to ask them about that and will report back if they respond.

Update: Per ESPN, “The current plan is for the Guardian Caps to have team logos on them when worn during games.” Also, I didn’t realize this, but logo-clad versions of the Guardian Cap already exist:

You know, we’ve just gone through a super-busy period for NFL uniform changes, but I think this news has the potential to be the biggest change of all. Crazy!

(Big thanks to Marcus Hall for bringing this development to my attention.)

Comments (46)

    My guess is that helmet manufacturers will start making helmets with the cap integrated in order to look a little more aesthetically pleasing while still providing the extra layer of protection (assuming it’s feasible to make it as protective; I’m not an engineer so I wouldn’t know that).

    I’m not an engineer either, but I’m thinking I’d read somewhere that part of the Guardian Cap’s effectiveness (kinetic energy dispersion, perhaps?) comes from it not being encased inside a hard shell. Will be interesting to see what happens from here. I cringe at the uni aesthetics, but if this satisfies the league’s need for safety PR without further degrading the sport to flag football, maybe it’s what’s necessary.

    I recall Paul interviewing one of the engineers or CEO from VICIS; they seemed to have a ton of cool innovations in helmet safety. I’d have to guess they’ll figure out a way to make this work even better.

    At first glance it looks like the safer helmets have exterior panels in preference to interior padding.

    If they come up with some way of making the caps replicate the look of the helmet (logo, stripes, etc.), I’ll be very impressed. It certainly doesn’t seem impossible, but with the way the cap is contoured, it would be an adventure in design, sublimating the logo onto the fabric, and so on. The cost of that does not seem like it would be trivial.

    I also wonder, with teams going to multiple helmet colors, how often we’re going to see players wearing caps with colors that don’t match the rest of the team.

    You can never fault a change in the name of player safety, and I’ve seen entire high school teams already go this route. But it’s also a big change to the visual nature of the game.

    Mike Webster was one of the toughest football players ever, and ended up with brain damage, with nowhere to live, and no money… but sure, let’s mock measures to protect players.


    I think some amount neurological damage will occur no matter how much padding is put on helmets, but the NFL isn’t going anywhere, so steps have to be taken.

    Remembering Mark Kelso.

    (And even John Olerud).

    News flash, Paul is forced to unretire before actually retiring due to the excessive amount of new uniform news…

    Seems like a natural progression. Especially if they’re effective. I’m sure there was pushback when the NFL went from the leather caps to the plastic lids. These designers are savvy enough to integrate the tech with the appearance of the teams helmets.

    Thing is, the plastic helmets were MORE amenable to graphic design, and thus represented an aesthetic step forwards. To all appearances, the Guardian caps would represent an enormous aesthetic step backwards–both in being a less forgiving palette for graphic design, and in their comical-looking proportions. Obviously, those are acceptable losses if they protect players’ brainpans better … but it’s this site’s business to at least take note of those losses.

    This is really interesting, for all the talk of player safety, specifically around head injuries, to the point that they claimed you could only have on helmet for safety reasons, if this design really is safer, it should just be mandated for all players, right?
    But of course, if player safety was important they wouldn’t have added the 17th game nor have all of these Thursday games and stadiums with garbage playing surfaces.
    I am wondering if a player requested this which led to the ruling.

    Those Georgia helmets are just a durag over the Guardian Cap, right? That’s what it looks like.

    Why not just go back to padded helmets with no shell? Padding covered by a shell covered by more padding seems like overcorrection.

    This would make more sense. Maybe at the youth levels, they get rid of the hard plastic helmets that can be used as weapons and promote poor tackling form.

    I wonder if wearing a guardian cap would allow a player to come back earlier from a concussion?

    Coming soon… helmets with the shell made out of rare earth magnets, all with an outward positive charge. No more head to head collisions, the helmets will just veer away from each other.

    This article on ESPN (link) contains a couple of tidbits:

    “The current plan is for the Guardian Caps to have team logos on them when worn during games.”

    There are apparently six helmet models (at last some of which are new for this year) which the NFL and NFLPA deem to have better protection than a “regular” helmet with a Guardian Cap. Players who opt for one of those models will also be exempt from the requirement to wear Guardian Caps during training camp contact practices.

    I think it is possible to commend the adoption of a piece of gear which increases player safety while lamenting its visual impact on the game. I still long for helmetless hockey forty years after that boat left the dock.

    It’s 2024.
    You see men? walking around in public wearing pink shirts and furry slippers.
    You will see a player wearing this on an NFL field.

    You give an excellent example of how normals conflate different things that are only related by sexist stereotypes.

    Or you could just teach these players had a tackle properly and not lead with their heads. But no, you have to put a mattress on these guys head so they can continue to use poor technique.

    Exactly. make helmets leather or similar to rugby headwear. THEN teach them how to tackle. would actually lead to less concussions as the head is used less.

    It’s worked for rugby players for decades. When your bean isn’t encased in a hard shell, you tend to think twice about going head-first into an oncoming human.

    I played Rugby after about a year long break from football for the better part of 5 years. You learn pretty quickly to tackle with your shoulder, and not as we were taught in Football to plant your facemask into someone’s sternum (note, this was 1970s era). Those who didn’t learn would suffer broken noses, cuts on eyebrows, etc. As a prop, I had a couple of cuts on my head, but those came during a scrum.

    One of the biggest issues with football is some 150lb 5 foot nothing DB launching himself headfirst, head down into a tackle. Thus why they’re now going to have to play with a mattress on their domes.

    Okay, but then what do you do about incidental collisions or head to ground contact?

    That Georgia logo is on a GC cover, not the GC itself. Can see this happening with NFL in the future.

    Ben Grimm of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comes to mind, especially if the Browns will wear this. I agree with the people above who say you should not tackle with your head anyway but with your shoulders. In order to bring down the number of concussions I applaud this. The Browns will have to change their logo again, though.

    For what it’s worth, a 2023 study by Stanford came to the conclusion that the Guardian Caps have little impact on reducing concussions. Check the article out here: link

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