10 Interesting Pieces of Sports Headgear

The Virgin racing team driver helmet is on display.
The Virgin racing team driver helmet is on display.
Jared Siskin, Getty Images

The NFL playoffs continue this weekend with Kurt Warner leading the high-scoring Arizona Cardinals into New Orleans for a showdown with the Saints. There is speculation that a loss could mark the final game of Warner's career, not for lack of ability (he threw for five touchdowns last week against the Packers), but because of his concern about sustaining another concussion like the one that sidelined him earlier this season.

While the NFL introduced new rules this season requiring players who exhibit any significant symptoms of a concussion to be removed from a game or practice, players have long taken protecting their noggins into their own hands. From oversized helmets and Velcro-affixed padding to facemasks and ball-repelling throat protectors, here are 10 interesting ways that athletes through the years have protected their most valuable assets "“ their heads.

1. Mark Kelso's Pro Cap

Longtime Buffalo Bills trainer Eddie Abramoski had watched safety Mark Kelso get knocked silly one too many times, so he took action. In 1989, Abramoski approached Kelso with a Pro Cap, a half-inch of rubberized padding that fit over a standard helmet and was attached with Velcro. The device was designed by Bert Strauss of Protective Sports Equipment in Erie, Pa., where Abramoski was once a high school football standout. Teammates dubbed Kelso "The Great Gazoo," but the teasing was a small price to pay for the protection the Pro Cap offered. The creators of the device claimed that the Pro Cap reduced the chances of a recurring head injury from 65 percent to 3 percent. "The biggest obstacle is the aesthetics," said Kelso, who credited the Pro Cap with prolonging his career. "I think guys just don't want to wear it because it looks so different." At least two other NFL players, Indianapolis Colts lineman Randy Dixon and San Francisco 49ers lineman Steve Wallace, also wore the Pro Cap. "Everyone laughs at me," said Wallace, who started wearing one after suffering his fifth concussion. "But what's more important, your ego or being able to play with your kids with a clear head after your career is over? I'll never play again without it."

2. David Wright's Jumbo Helmet

wright-helmetThree weeks after being beaned in the head by a Matt Cain fastball last season, New York Mets third baseman Wright returned to the lineup sporting the Rawlings S100, an oversized helmet that can withstand the impact of a 100 mph fastball. Wright resembled a life-size bobblehead doll and was the object of ridicule both within and outside the Mets' clubhouse before ditching the helmet after two games. "It's just not comfortable," he told reporters. In his first game with his regular helmet since coming off the disabled list, Wright had three hits. Rawlings delivered a trial shipment of the S100s to every major league team last September, but players, citing the helmets' bulky feel and goofy look, have been hesitant to make the switch. Angels outfielder Torii Hunter refers to them as "Gazoo helmets," a reference to the Flintstones character, while Marlins catcher John Baker is waiting for Rawlings or another company to improve on the S100's design. "If we could put a man on the moon 40 years ago, we can put a transmitter on Mars and I can watch a movie on my little iPod, we could probably make a thinner helmet that can protect up to a 100-mph fastball," Baker told the Palm Beach Post.

3. Ryan Sadowski's Plastic Cap Insert

When veteran Randy Johnson went on the disabled list with an elbow injury last season, it opened the door for San Francisco Giants rookie Ryan Sadowski to make his major league debut after a remarkable trip through the minor leagues. In 2003, while pitching for the Giants' short-season minor league team, Sadowski began experiencing headaches. He didn't think much of them at first, but after becoming extremely sick a few months later, he had an MRI and was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. Sadowski had emergency surgery and doctors told him that he would probably never throw again. Instead, he resumed pitching in 2004. The Giants wanted Sadowski to wear a skullcap to protect his noggin when he returned, but the right-hander had a more creative solution. Sadowski starched one of his caps and provided it to a plastic manufacturer, which produced a mold and a custom plastic insert for Sadowski to place inside his regular caps., "It's kind of shaped like a salad bowl," he told the San Jose Mercury News last year. Sadowski won his first two starts before struggling and being sent back down to the minors.

4. Jacques Plante's Goalie Mask

jacquesIn 1959, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante was hit in the face by a shot in the first period of a game at Madison Square Garden. The game was delayed 20 minutes while Plante received seven stitches to close the wound. He returned to the game wearing a fiberglass mask, which he had used in practice but had never worn in a game. The decision sparked controversy and criticism from some of hockey's traditionalists. Muzz Patrick, the Rangers' general manager, told the New York Times, "The use of a mask takes something from the fans. They want to see the man, particularly the female fans." A few years before Plante started wearing his mask, Rangers goalie Gump Worsley had considered the idea. Worsley purchased a mask, but his coach, Phil Watson, wouldn't let him wear it. "Who wants a good-looking goalie?" Watson said. By 1974, perhaps to the dismay of the league's female fans, all goalies were wearing masks.

5. Steve Yeager's Throat Protector

Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager is remembered for a number of things, and his ability to hit a baseball is not one of them. Yeager's cousin, Chuck, was widely considered the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Steve Yeager, who was a .228 hitter in 15 major league seasons, posed nude for Playgirl in 1982. He appeared in Major League, Major League II, and Major League: Back to the Minors. He won the 1981 World Series MVP award. Oh, and he almost died in the on-deck circle. In 1976, shards from Bill Russell's broken bat tore a hole a half-inch deep in Yeager's neck, piercing his esophagus. Yeager underwent emergency surgery and made a full recovery. Shortly after the incident, Dodgers trainer Bill Buhler, who was known as Dr. Fix-It throughout his 44 years in baseball, invented and patented a throat protector that hung from the catcher's mask. While it wouldn't protect him in the on-deck circle, Yeager began wearing the throat protector behind the plate and it soon became a staple piece of equipment for both catchers and umpires.

6. Charlie O'Brien's Hockey-Style Cather's Mask

hockey-maskThirteen years after Yeager retired and more than 100 years since Harvard's Jim Tyng introduced the catcher's mask to baseball, journeyman catcher Charlie O'Brien, who was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays at the time, began working with Van Velden Mask Inc. to design a hockey-style catcher's mask that would provide greater protection against foul-tipped balls. Major League Baseball approved the masks, but prohibited the use of personalized logos and designs like the ones that had become popular among NHL goalies. When O'Brien debuted the mask in Toronto, the Jumbotron at SkyDome displayed images from Friday the 13th, The Mask, and Silence of the Lambs. Hockey-style catcher masks remain popular today.

7. John Olerud's Helmet

helmet-JOAfter his junior season at Washington State, John Olerud underwent a six-hour surgery to remove an aneurysm at the base of his brain. Cougars head coach Bobo Brayton suggested that Olerud, who was named college player of the year as a sophomore, wear a helmet in the field during his senior season. Brayton had worn a helmet while coaching after he was drilled in the head by a line drive while throwing batting practice in 1959. "You know when (NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk) got his neck cut? One of the things he said in an interview is that the little things that used to bother him don't bother him any more," Olerud told the Spokesman-Review in 1989. "Well, the little things that used to get on my nerves just don't any more." Olerud, a lifetime .295 hitter, wore a flapless helmet in the field throughout his 17-year career.

8. Dave Parker's Hockey and Football Masks

parker-helmetIn 1978, Pittsburgh Pirates great Dave Parker fractured his jaw and cheekbone in a home plate collision with Mets catcher John Stearns. Parker missed 11 games before returning to the lineup with some unique headgear to protect his swollen face. Parker wore a hockey goalie's mask painted black and yellow during batting practice and as a pinch-hitter in his first game back. While the hockey mask was intimidating, it limited Parker's ability to see pitches, so he turned to Pittsburgh Steelers equipment manager Tony Parisi to help design him a better form of protection. Parisi came up with several solutions, including a baseball helmet with a football-style two-bar faceguard. Paul Lukas, ESPN contributor and founder of the Uni Watch blog, captured the fascinating history of Parker's various masks in an article last year. Parker stopped wearing facial protection in 1979. Nearly 30 years earlier, the Pirates, under the instruction of general manager Branch Rickey, were the first team to wear helmets.

9. Gerry Cheevers' Stitch Mask

stitch-maskAfter being hit in the mask by a puck during practice in 1968, Boston Bruins Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers asked team trainer John Forristall to draw stitch marks on his mask where he had been hit. The comical idea continued that season and Cheevers' white mask was soon full of stitch marks. Cheevers began each season with a fresh canvas for Forristall's stitches and his unique design helped launch the tradition of decorated goalie masks that continues today. "Kids used to write me and say, "˜How do I get a mask like that?'" Cheevers recalled in a 2007 interview. "I'd say, "˜Send me $100 and I'll send you a Magic Marker."

10. Richard Hamilton's Facemask

ripDetroit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton began wearing a clear plastic facemask in March 2004 after having his nose broken twice during the season. While Hamilton hated the mask at first, he gradually became more comfortable with it and led the Pistons in playoff scoring en route to an NBA title. Hamilton had no intentions of wearing the mask in 2005, but resumed wearing it early in the season and has sported it ever since. Hamilton's mask was designed by orthotist Jerry McHale, who created a clear facemask for former Pistons "Bad Boy" Bill Laimbeer in 1990 after he suffered an orbital fracture, and a facemask for Kobe Bryant while the Lakers guard was in high school.

The Question that Baffled Britain's High Court: Are Pringles Chips?

iStock/eskaylim
iStock/eskaylim

Are Pringles potato chips? From 2007 to 2009, that question plagued judges at three different levels of the British judiciary, leading to a series of head-scratchingly comical legal proceedings. The stakes, however, were nothing but serious: The ruling put hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.

The question revolved around Britain’s value-added tax, or VAT. According to the 1994 VAT Act, any product that is “wholly, or substantially wholly, made from the potato” was subject to a 17.5 percent tax. In 2007, Britain’s VAT and Duties Tribunal determined that Pringles fell under the tax’s umbrella—and demanded the chipman payeth.

Procter & Gamble, who owned Pringles at the time, vehemently disagreed. They argued that Pringles were only 42 percent potato flour, with the rest mostly a slurry of wheat starch, corn and rice flour, and vegetable oil. The snack food, they said, could not be classified as a potato chip because, unlike a real potato chip, its overall contents and shape were “not found in nature.”

In addition to being unappetizing, this argument was a marked shift from the company's original position. When the snack first hit shelves in the mid-1960s, Pringles were proudly marketed as “potato chips.” (More specifically, as newfangled potato chips.) They did this despite reported complaints from competing chip-makers, who argued that the snack food—which is cooked from a thin, mashed potato-like dough—should be classified differently.

But now that millions of dollars were on the line, Procter & Gamble’s lawyers wholeheartedly embraced Pringles's unique place as a “not-really-a-chip” chip. The VAT and Duties Tribunal, however, didn’t buy it. In a decision that sounds more like a Zen kōan, the tax masters argued that Pringles were chips because they were “made from potato flour in the sense that one cannot say that it is not made from potato flour.”

To that, the British High Court of Justice basically replied: Wow, that's confusing! Now, excuse us, we would like to top it.

The following year, the High Court stepped in and reversed the Tribunal's decision. First, the Court argued that Pringles were more akin to a cake or bread than a chip. (Who, of course, can forget their first birthday Pringle?) Furthermore, the Court declared that a Pringle—which we should emphasize is, in fact, mostly made from potatoes—was not “made from the potato." Their reasoning invoked Greek metaphysics, claiming that Pringles did not possess the required amount of (and this is their word) “potatoness.”

The controversy didn’t end there. In 2009, the case moved up another judicial wrung, this time to Britain’s Supreme Court of Judicature. The lower court's metaphysical arguments about "potatoness" were enough to make Aristotle's brain hurt, the justices moaned. They criticized the previous ruling for its “overelaborate, almost mind-numbing legal analysis” and dubbed the topic at hand a “short practical question calling for a short practical answer.”

Procter & Gamble’s lawyers bore down anyway. They claimed that a product made from “a number of significant ingredients ... cannot be said to be ‘made from’ one of them.” Lord Justice Jacob called this argument hogwash. If that were true, he argued, then “a marmalade made using both oranges and grapefruit would be made of neither—a nonsense conclusion."

After working itself in and out of semantic pretzels, the Court said the easiest solution to Chipgate was to appeal to a hypothetical child: If you asked an 8-year-old to explain what a Pringle was, what would he or she say?

The question of a Pringle’s identity, the Court argued, “would probably be answered in a more relevant and sensible way by a child consumer than by a food scientist or a culinary pedant.”

In other words, a chip is a chip is a chip—Pringles among them. With that, Procter & Gamble had to pay $160 million in taxes.

Though common sense prevailed, it doesn’t always end that way: Around the time of the great Pringle debate, the state of Oklahoma was busy confidently declaring watermelon a vegetable.

Fart All You Want—These 'Flatulence Jeans' Were Designed to Absorb the Smell

Shreddies
Shreddies

Like it or not, everyone farts, and they do it far more than you’d think. Healthy people pass gas up to 20 times a day, and, as we recently learned, even if you try to hold your farts in, they’ll come out one way or the other—possibly through your mouth. Depending on what you eat and where you pass it, that can get pretty smelly. That is, unless you’re wearing fart-proof pants. A UK-based company called Shreddies makes “flatulence filtering” jeans that promise to eliminate your worst smells before they can escape into the wider world, Business Today reports.

Shreddies products are lined with activated charcoal, a substance that’s great at absorbing odors and gases—so much so that it’s a go-to ingredient for home air filters and purifiers. According to Shreddies, the odor-absorbing qualities of the fabric last around two to three years, at which point you’d probably be buying new jeans, anyway.

A side view of a woman wearing fart-filtering underwear
Shreddies

You still have to mind your farts, though. The company says that to be effective, the jeans have to fit tightly against the skin, ensuring that your gas is absorbed directly into the fabric. “To avoid flatulence escaping around the filter we recommend that you stand with your legs together and try to let your wind out slowly,” the Shreddies website instructs (emphasis theirs). “When sitting, keep your knees together so that flatulence escapes through the carbon panel.” As long as the jeans fit correctly, the filter should absorb all the foul odors leaking out of your body.

The jeans, available for men and women, cost roughly $130 (£100) plus shipping, a price that probably seems worth it to the people in your life who have to deal with your noxious toots.

Not a jeans person? Fear not. The company also makes fart-filtering underwear and pajamas. There are gift options, too, for all of your favorite flatulence-prone friends.

[h/t Business Today]

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