Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The physics of football: As players get faster, stronger, game becomes more ... - Indianapolis Star

Timothy Gay has made a career studying the science of the football tackle. One thing he hasn't seen: a way to make it safer.

"You can't get around the law of physics," said Gay, a professor at the University of Nebraska and author of "Football Physics: The Science of the Game."

"If (players) get bigger and faster, injuries are going to go up. Concussion injuries have always been with us. People have just become aware of the problem."

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Gay, who is a football fan, said a head-on collision between a ballcarrier and a tackler is equal to being hit in the head with a bowling ball dropped from 16 feet. It creates about 800 pounds of force, assuming the players are running at an average speed of about 10 yards per second at the time of the collision.

The only way to protect players, Gay said, is to devise equipment so big and clumsy that it would affect the speed of the game -- something fans wouldn't accept.

"No number of ingenious helmet designers are going to get us away from this problem unless players start looking like the Michelin Man," Gay said.

"It's going to be really interesting to see where this goes in the next couple of years, because I think we're on the cusp (of a crisis)."

Short of a lot of Michelin Men playing football, Gay has one other idea to make the game safer: ban helmets, or at the very least go back to old leather helmets.

"The nice thing about having no helmets," he said, "is you clearly eliminate the sense of invincibility the players feel."

Call Star reporter Michael Pointer at (317) 444-2709. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelpointer.

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