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.

10 Wireless Chargers Designed to Make Life Easier

La Lucia/Moshi
La Lucia/Moshi

While our smart devices and gadgets are necessary in our everyday life, the worst part is the clumsy collection of cords and chargers that go along with them. Thankfully, there are more streamlined ways to keep your phone, AirPods, Apple Watch, and other electronics powered-up. Check out these 10 wireless chargers that are designed to make your life convenient and connected.

1. Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad; $40

Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad
Moshi

Touted as one of the world's fastest chargers, this wireless model from Moshi is ideal for anyone looking to power-up their phone or AirPods in a hurry. It sports a soft, cushioned design and features a proprietary Q-coil module that allows it to charge through a case as thick as 5mm.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

2. Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station; $57

Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station
Rego Tech

Consolidate your bedside table with this clock, Bluetooth 5.0 speaker, and wireless charger, all in one. It comes with a built-in radio and glossy LED display with three levels of brightness to suit your style.

Buy it: Mental Floss Shop

3. BentoStack PowerHub 5000; $100 (37 percent off)

BentoStack PowerHub 5000
Function101

This compact Apple accessory organizer will wirelessly charge, port, and store your device accessories in one compact hub. It stacks to look neat and keep you from losing another small piece of equipment.

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4. Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger; $85

Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger
Moshi

This wireless charger doubles as a portable battery, so when your charge dies, the backup battery will double your device’s life. Your friends will love being able to borrow a charge, too, with the easy, non-slip hook-up.

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5. 4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger; $41 (31 percent off)

4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger
La Lucia

Put all of those tangled cords to rest with this single, temperature-controlled charging stand that can work on four devices at once. It even has a built-in safeguard to protect against overcharging.

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6. GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger; $20 (31 percent off)

GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger
Origaudio

If you need to charge your phone while also using it as a GPS, this wireless device hooks right into the car’s air vent for safe visibility. Your device will be fully charged within two to three hours, making it perfect for road trips.

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7. Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad; $35 (30 percent off)

Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad
Bezalel

This incredibly thin, tiny charger is designed for anyone looking to declutter their desk or nightstand. Using a USB-C cord for a power source, this wireless charger features a built-in cooling system and is simple to set up—once plugged in, you just have to rest your phone on top to get it working.

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8. Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain; $20 (59 percent off)

Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain
Go Gadgets

This Apple Watch charger is all about convenience on the go. Simply attach the charger to your keys or backpack and wrap your Apple Watch around its magnetic center ring. The whole thing is small enough to be easily carried with you wherever you're traveling, whether you're commuting or out on a day trip.

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9. Wireless Charger with 30W Power Delivery & 18W Fast Charger Ports; $55 (38 percent off)

Wireless Charger from TechSmarter
TechSmarter

Fuel up to three devices at once, including a laptop, with this single unit. It can wirelessly charge or hook up to USB and USB-C to consolidate your charging station.

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10. FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table; $150 (24 percent off)

FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table
FoneSalesman

This bamboo table is actually a wireless charger—all you have to do is set your device down on the designated charging spot and you're good to go. Easy to construct and completely discreet, this is a novel way to charge your device while entertaining guests or just enjoying your morning coffee.

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Taco Bell Quarterly, a Taco Bell-Themed Literary Journal, Exists—And You Can Read It Online

What does the Crunchwrap Supreme have to do with queer politics? A lot, actually.
What does the Crunchwrap Supreme have to do with queer politics? A lot, actually.
Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Taco Bell

In August 2019, writer and “Editor Grande Supreme” MM Carrigan launched the first edition of a free online literary journal called the Taco Bell Quarterly. It wasn’t a publicity stunt—in fact, it wasn’t affiliated with the fast food chain at all—but rather a quality collection of Taco Bell-themed literary musings that ran the gamut from satirical to totally serious.

According to Food & Wine, about 1500 people downloaded that first issue, and viewership grew to 40,000 for the second issue, which was released in February 2020. The Quarterly is gearing up to launch Volume 3 in September, and it promises to be the most zeitgeist-y edition yet.

“Volume 3 will be very much informed by the state of the world. The pieces we're gravitating toward are foreboding, existing on the precipice of an alternate history in which we might have prevented the pandemic," Carrigan tells Mental Floss. “People think we're a joke, but this will be the issue that proves we're not. Writers are taking chances in writing in our magazine that I don't think the literary world has seen in a long time. We're writing with radical sincerity.”

Capturing the cultural atmosphere of this year through Taco Bell-related poems, essays, and short stories might seem like a tall order, but the Quarterly is no stranger to tackling tough topics. While some early pieces are silly and upbeat—take Alana Saltz’s poem “Ode to Nacho Fries,” for example—others use Taco Bell as a backdrop for deeper musings about “homelessness, suburban dread, poverty, American identity, and so much more,” as Carrigan told Food & Wine.

Carrigan chose Taco Bell as the journal's unifying thread because, to put it plainly, it was the first idea that popped into her head.

“Brands are a symbiote that live in our brains. We're telling that story,” she says. And, as far as brands go, Taco Bell's offbeat, innovative menu items and neon beverages are more “seductive” and “daring” than McDonald's classic Big Macs and smiling clown mascot. In other words, the subversive fast food chain is the perfect theme for an online journal that aims to subvert people's stereotypical understanding of “The Writing Life,” which Carrigan describes as a “journey of MFA programs, writing retreats, [and] rubbing elbows at conferences.”

As interest in Taco Bell Quarterly grew, Taco Bell itself began to take notice, and Carrigan says the company has sent the team hundreds of dollars' worth of free tacos as an unofficial "thank you" for all the free advertising. She distributes them to writers whose work has been rejected by other literary magazines.

While you wait for Volume 3 to hit the internet this fall, catch up on the first two volumes on the Taco Bell Quarterly website here.

[h/t Food & Wine]