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Antonio Brown’s Helmet Standoff Nears a Conclusion

Even by N.F.L. standards — remember Deflategate, anyone? — the standoff between Oakland Raiders receiver Antonio Brown and the league is odd.

For the past few months, Brown has insisted that he be allowed to wear his favorite helmet even though the N.F.L. and the players association have determined it no longer meets their safety standards. Brown has sat out much of the preseason, filed two grievances and tied his new team in knots.

Brown was not the only player to complain when the league and the union announced their list of approved helmets in April. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other players also had to ditch their old helmets. But they eventually picked new models from the list of 34 approved helmets and moved on.

Brown is the lone holdout. He is so upset about not being able to wear the Schutt AiR Advantage, which was discontinued in 2011, that he filed a second grievance against the league on Monday, arguing that the helmet should be grandfathered in.

Brown has not practiced during much of the standoff, leading the team’s general manager, Mike Mayock, on Sunday to issue an ultimatum to the wide receiver.

“At this point, we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief,” Mayock told reporters. “So from our perspective, it’s time for him to be all-in or all-out.”

On Sunday, Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said it was not accurate to say that all options had been exhausted, as Mayock claimed. He said he was still working with the Raiders, the league and the union to find a solution.

“To say that A.B. is upset about the decision to not let him wear his helmet is accurate, but we’re still processing it and figuring it out,” Rosenhaus said.

Coach Jon Gruden said Brown wore a Schutt Vengeance Z10 LTD — an approved helmet — at practice on Tuesday, according to the NFL Network. But it’s unclear whether that will end the controversy, or if Brown and Rosenhaus have any recourse once an arbitrator rules on the second grievance.

Wondering how we got to this point? Here’s where we are in the latest chapter of Helmetgate:

Why is the helmet Brown wants to wear no longer allowed?

In April, the N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players Association published their latest list of approved (and prohibited) helmets based on tests performed at a laboratory run by Biokinetics in Ottawa. The results were reviewed by medical directors from the league and union.

Helmets must also meet standards set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. But the organization does not review helmets that are 10 or more years old, and Brown’s helmet is from 2010.

What’s up with Brown’s grievance?

Brown filed his first grievance asking to be allowed to wear the helmet of his choice. An arbitrator rejected his request. His second grievance was filed this week and asks for his helmet to be grandfathered in. With the opening of the season fast approaching, the arbitrator is expected to hear his case quickly.

ImageCreditVICISImageCreditVICISWhat are the differences between the AiR Advantage and newer helmets?

According to Stefan Duma, who runs the independent helmet testing laboratory at Virginia Tech, it mostly comes down to more resilient padding.

Newer helmets that receive five stars on average in Duma’s tests (the highest possible score) reduce the impact of head acceleration by about half compared with the AiR Advantage. So if a player received a blow with a G-force of 100 while wearing an AiR Advantage, the G-force in a newer five-star helmet might only be 50.

“The differences are far too large to ignore,” Duma said.

How else does Brown’s helmet differ from newer versions?

His helmet has a hard, rigid shell, while many newer helmets, like those made by VICIS, use flexible thermoplastic, which has more give in collisions.

The Schutt helmet is lighter than most models, which is part of its appeal, but its peripheral vision is not as wide as some newer helmets.

The AiR Advantage also has tubing inside that fills with air. Air is not as good at reducing impact than newer padding. The foam in older helmets also tends to harden in cold weather.

Why is Brown so intent on keeping his old helmet?

Brown has his reasons. “It demonstrates the emotional attachment veteran N.F.L. players can have to their helmets,” said Dave Marver, a co-founder of VICIS, which has the top-ranked helmet on the N.F.L.’s list. “We’re a big believer in players having a choice. But the options should be responsible ones.”

More on Football and Helmet Safety Touch Football, Sold as Safer, Now Requires a HelmetAug. 20, 2019A Giant Laid Low by Too Many Blows to the HeadApril 17, 2019Responding to Criticism, N.F.L. Says Helmet Rule Will Not ChangeAug. 22, 2018


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