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NFL will allow Guardian Caps to be worn in games beginning in the ’24 season

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The NFL is taking another big step in its effort to improve player safety while specifically trying to reduce head injuries in an inherently violent sport.

The league revealed Thursday that Guardian Caps, which have steadily become a fixture in practices, will be authorized for use in games during the 2024 season.

“So we expanded the (practice) mandate to all players, still allowing for quarterbacks, kickers and punters. But then there’s also the ability for a player to wear it during the game if they want to,” Dawn Aponte, the NFL’s chief football operations administrator, said during a health and safety webinar.

“There were a number of clubs that had already required all their players to wear them (during helmeted training).”

It’s kind of a seismic shift when it comes to game day, but players have generally embraced the padded covers that attach to the outside of the helmet. League analytics collected over the past decade show that if a player is wearing the Guardian Cap at the moment the helmet is hit, the cap absorbs at least 10 percent of the force. If both players wear the cap and have a helmet, against a helmet hit the force of impact is reduced by at least 20 percent.”

Given that level of injury prevention, it appears players are prioritizing form over fashion, at a time when the league is also encouraging players to consider position-specific helmets designed to minimize their exposure to head injuries based on even more specific risk factors.

“It’s really become a norm here,” Los Angeles Rams director of equipment Brendan Burger said. “The players know the Caps. They’ve seen the data, it works. The Guardian Caps have become another piece of equipment they take to practice. You think about all the head impacts we reduce from players wearing them, and it’s second nature now.”

Burger also shared that the Rams opted for additional use of the Caps in practice in 2021 after quarterback Matthew Stafford injured his throwing hand in training camp when he hit it on an uncapped helmet while following a pass.

Does this new safety enhancement mean that Guardian Caps will soon become mandatory every time a player steps onto the field, whether in training or during a match?

“We will see incremental improvement every year,” said Aponte, who also shared that players and teams were “very receptive to the change.”

And there could be more to come soon, as the league continues to collect safety data on the Caps as they are worn in live-action gaming environments.

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Follow Nate Davis of USA TODAY Sports on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.