Published: August 25, 2013
With safety in mind, the NFL is making players wear knee and thigh pads this season - even if some of them don't like it.
The mandatory leg padding is back for the first time since 1994, when it was dropped because it was too tough to enforce. If you think such a rule couldn't provoke much emotion, think again. Players have strong, if mixed feelings about the extra protection.
"Everyone is concerned about carrying more weight" says NFL vice president of football operations Merton Hanks, a Super Bowl-winning safety with the 49ers in the 1990s. "But I think the major point of mandating pads for everyone except punters and kickers is equity for all.
"Besides, we saw last year how Adrian Peterson ran in thigh pads and knee pads and what he was able to do."
Players in the trenches, running backs like Peterson who take the most (and hardest) hits, and the linebackers who deliver those shots tend to favor anything that enhances protection. "Skill position" players such as receivers and defensive backs, leery of anything they think could slow them down a tick, aren't embracing the change.
"There might be some minor gripes, but we think the game will be as exciting and safe as ever," Hanks said.
Minor gripes? Try these:
- "This is new, and it (stinks). It's different running around with these things in," said Titans safety Bernard Pollard, who won the Super Bowl with Baltimore last February. "I mean, this is what the league is going to. Do we like it? No. Can we do anything about it? No."
- "It's a great pendulum that's swung, and it's swung too far," added 49ers star defensive lineman Justin Smith. "But that's the way it goes. The rule's the rule. You go with it."
- "I don't know what I can say without getting into trouble, so I don't want to say anything," said Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, one of the NFL's top deep threats. "Whatever they think is going to help us. I guess it will save you from a thigh contusion or a bruise or something. I don't know. It's not going to help with anything else."
Even players who agree with the concept aren't completely sold on the rules change.
"It's necessary. I'm not sure it needs to be mandated," said Lions receiver Nate Burleson, who is entering his 11th season. "I'm not going to complain that the league is trying to protect us, but I'd rather not have to wear those pads. With skill guys, it's about look and feel."
The pad protests date back to the seasons when Bill Parcells was coaching the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins - in the 1986 and '90 seasons.
"It was a constant battle for me," says Parcells, who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. "I was always one that was very adamant about wearing pads and I would fine my players if they didn't wear them. Now, some of them got away with it and would take them out once the game started. You're not thinking about those things when the game is going on.
"I'm glad that they are enforcing that because I think the players sometimes don't know what is in their own best interest. I've seen many injuries in my experience that came when proper equipment was not worn and could have been prevented."