Football facemasks used to be a single bar that protected the face. Today, we see all various types of face masks. Which football are face masks legal?
Facemasks that are clearly see-through and offer an obvious view of the face are legal. The referee will remove face masks that void the visibility.
In this article, we will show you the different types of face masks that are both illegal and legal.
Legal Face Masks
It’s hard to imagine playing football without a face mask or even a helmet, but that is exactly how the game used to be played.
Football initially started as the game of rugby (rugby is one of football’s long-lost ancestors). Players were in tight formations, trying to overpower one another. The giant scrum of players had plenty of kicking, elbowing, and stomping.
Players often got caught in the middle of the scrum and broke fingers, legs, and arms – similar to what we see in today’s game.
However, the head was never protected. The low velocity of the players in the scrum didn’t necessarily include high-impact hits. We also didn’t have the science and the technology that players and teams have today to ensure that player safety is a number one priority.
Let’s look at a timeline of the face mask, starting at the invention of the helmet:
Football Face Masks
1893: To be fair, the exact date and to whom the credit is deserved is not clear. However, we do know that in the 1893 Army-Navy game, Admiral Joseph Mason Reeve wore one. The old story is that he had apparently been kicked and hit in the head so many times, his doctor told him that another hard impact could lead to “instant insanity.” Reeve went to his shoemaker and had him fashion a thick hat with flaps to cover his ears. Thus, the helmet was born.
1943: The helmet is officially made a requirement for all players to wear by the NFL. Players are still wearing hard leather helmets at this time
Enter The Face Mask
1953: The Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham is knocked out of a game, following an elbow to the face. The team’s trainer attached a single bar to Graham’s helmet that ran across his face to protect him. After the game, a more formal design was created, and all Cleveland players were required to wear single bar masks. Almost immediately, other NFL teams follow suit.
1955: The NFL makes the single bar face mask a requirement for all players to wear. It is most noteworthy that most players were voluntarily wearing them anyway.
1960’s: Different phases of improving the face mask start in this decade. The bar is moved to the bottom of the helmet, and it now has 2 bars to cover more of the face.
From the “Double Bar” to the “Full” and Beyond
The late 1960s-1970s: Face masks continue to add more bars and cover more and more of the face due to their proven ability to protect them. Pictured below is what is called the “full” face mask on Hall of Famer David Robinson:
The 1980s-1990s: There are no real changes to the face mask. We will see various styles with changes of where the bars are on the helmet. Look at Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas below:
2000’s: We begin to see what we see on fields across the country today. Most players are wearing variations of what is depicted below, with some lineman sporting a vertical bar.
2004: The NFL formally bans single bar helmets, but some players were grandfathered in. This exception is only for kickers who preferred visibility over safety. Ultimately, the last single bar helmet appeared on a professional field in 2007.
Football helmets continue to evolve each year. As technology improves, so does the style of helmets.
Riddell introduced their new Speedflex helmets, which have a soft padding sweet spot on the top of their helmets.
This is to help reduce concussions from that point of contact. Their insides are also more padded and comfortable for the player.
The Schutt F7 VTD helmet also provides a natural comfort fit with the new Tectonic Plate 3DM system. The tectonic plate system is the rectangle outer core technology that supports head collisions.
This helmet shell is shown without the face mask.
Another popular helmet on the market is the Vicis Zero1.
Traditional helmets use a hard shell and a protective bladder to help secure the skull. The Vicis Zero1, however, uses a shell, their patented technology, another shell, and a form liner.
Although this hasn’t been proven to reduce concussions completely, it’s certainly paving the path for helmets to be more secure.
Have you tried any of the new helmets on the market? What is your favorite and most secure helmet? Answer in the comment section below!
Other Face Mask Rules
The NCAA and NFHS have also ruled against having dark-tinted visors as well. The reasoning was for the risk of a player being unconscious; the training staff needed to look inside the face mask.
However, the lighter or the smoke color visors are still legal. Although, it’s to the referee’s discretion if the player can wear it or not.
In 2016, the NCAA also ruled against having multi-bar face masks. This was for fear of getting fingers caught in them, as well as training staff support.
When we say “multi-bar,” not the common face mask that players commonly wear today; rather, we reference the image above where the mouth of the face mask looks wired rather than straight bars.
Do you think the face masks should add more bars like they used to? Do you agree with the tinted visor rule, and/or do you have any questions about face masks or our timeline? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Related Q & A
What Are Football Facemasks Made Of?
Football facemasks are made of a hard plastic that is molded to fit different positions.
Do Different Football Positions Have Different Facemasks?
Typically quarterbacks and skill players have fewer bars on their facemask for visibility purposes. Offensive and defensive linemen will have more bars on their facemask to protect them from accidental fingers and hands.