Facemasks without a doubt are one of the most important pieces of football equipment that is worn on the field. Consider wearing a football helmet that entirely exposes your face.
During the early years of football when players used leather helmets, players had no protection for the face. The modern game and the players have increased significantly in speed and physicality. Players are now much faster, stronger and physical than ever before. The game has also become far more competitive and violent. To play without a face guard would result in catastrophic injuries.
Facemasks have evolved over the years to become stronger and lighter with more intricate designs. There is also now the intimidation factor that comes with some designs. There are numerous options for facemasks that have different benefits of protection and intimidation.
During recent years, titanium facemasks have entered the market and have gained in popularity on the field. This is due to the light weight and strength compared to the traditional steel materials. Titanium facemasks are 60% lighter than traditional steel facemasks. This provides players with more and quicker movement while being less fatiguing and giving a much better overall performance. In addition to the rise in popularity of titanium, big grill style facemasks have also become very popular. These provide additional facial protection while giving a more intimidating look. Even some quarterbacks make special requests for custom facemasks. For example, some prefer one fewer horizontal bar than is traditionally worn by players at the position and that protrudes an additional inch, this is so the quarterback can get his hands underneath to lick his fingers for added grip on the ball.
The demand for these custom facemasks has seen some manufacturers create custom facemask design software, which has even been distributed to various teams. The evolution of the facemasks has now also led to many discussions and policy changes regarding the extent to which to permit the use of non-standard facemasks.
The NFL recently announced a new rule prohibiting non-standard facemasks. Specifically, facemasks that have added bars such as the ‘big grill’ style facemask. The NFL claims these types of face guards may incline players to lead with their heads if they are wearing supersized face guards. The NFL also claims the added weight to the facemask poses a risk as the additional weight may cause the player to lower his head. This is debatable considering the strength and physicality of players compared to the very minimal added weight, particularly for titanium facemasks. The actual NFL ruling falls under the league’s game day attire policy. Custom ‘big grill’ style face guards have not been prohibited directly. The NFL does make provisions for approval of non-standard face guards for medical grounds.
A majority of other professional and amateur leagues in North America and around the world have not moved to prohibit non-standard facemasks as yet. Although the NCAA rule book only requires the facemask be made of an unbreakable material that will not chip and has rounded edges, it does stipulate that the rules committee reserves the right to intervene if they feel they need to.
The NGL does not prohibit the use of custom facemasks provided the facemask meets the minimum design and material requirements and color schemes. The one key ruling the NGL has in place is the requirement for non-standard facemasks such as the big grill to be constructed from lightweight titanium. The lightweight titanium is expected to offset some of the additional weight from the added bars in non-standard facemasks such as the big grill.
Fans do expect players to maintain a professional dress code and for teams to be uniformed to a modern and high standard. However, fans have also made it clear that they want to see some originality from players and are not for ‘no fun’ football.
Although non-standard facemasks such as the big grill have gained significant popularity, they do come with as many cons as pros. The pros are undoubtedly the intimidation factor and added protection from hands and fingers to the face. However, the most frequent negative feedback given by players who use these big grill facemasks is the added weight and reduced visibility. For those reasons alone facemasks such as the big grill are not suitable for skilled positions but seem to be perfect for the trenches.
One thing is certain, if you choose to play with a custom facemask that is intimidating or looks spectacular, make sure your ability and impact on the field matches the way you look.