The East Midlands Softball League has become the first slowpitch league in the UK to vote that all players must wear helmets when batting or baserunning. This policy will come into effect for the 2013 season.
The vote in favour of the policy at the recent EMSL AGM was 7-5 with one abstention, so it was quite a close decision – even closer than an earlier vote in 2012, which produced a margin of 8-4 in favour.
From the League Committee's point of view, the policy is designed to reduce potential injuries to players – particularly with regard to batter-runners or baserunners being struck with a ball thrown by a fielder – while also giving peace of mind to the fielding team that any baserunner struck in the head by one of their throws is far less likely to suffer serious harm as a result.
EMSL Committee member Harvey Pryor said: “The reason this is important is that a baserunner is virtually defenceless to a thrown softball when running without a helmet, as they shouldn't be looking at the ball and so may not be aware of the fact it's heading towards them. So they're unable to take avoiding action, as they may be able to do in another situation, such as somebody running into their running line.”
Opposition arguments to the policy were mainly around lack of personal choice, the financial impact, the issue of umpires having to check helmets for damage and the potential liability that could arise if someone was injured as a result of wearing defective headgear provided by a club to a player.
The original idea for an EMSL policy on helmets came from a proposal made by the league team Sheriffs of Nottingham at the league's 2012 AGM, and it arose from an incident in which a female player was hit on the head by a throw from a male outfielder – though luckily, the player did not require hospitalisation. However, the fielder who made the throw almost gave up the sport as a result, and the Sheriffs felt that something had to be done.
Although team captains approved the proposal at the 2012 AGM, it was decided to delay implementation until 2013 so that teams could canvass opinion among their players and could also purchase helmets and acclimatise players to playing with them.
At the 2013 AGM, the Nottingham Brewers submitted a motion in favour of making the wearing of helmets a matter of personal choice, but the vote (7-5-1) was in favour of making the policy mandatory.
Teams will have to purchase their own helmets – but most of those that supported the policy did this last year or already had them. However, the league will be putting in a bulk order on behalf of any clubs that need helmets, and the cost should be around £8 each.
So the maximum outlay for a club would be around £40 to provide helmets for one batter, up to three baserunners and the batter warming up on deck – although following the adoption of mandatory safeguarding regulations at the BSF AGM on February 23, any players 18 or under who are coaching from coaching boxes or are in the “dugout” area will need to be wearing helmets as well.