Players, some grudgingly, accept new NFL rule requiring knee, thigh pads

August 2, 2013

Trent Williams, like many of his teammates, says he’ll get used to a new rule requiring thigh and knee pads be worn. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — The grumbling has not ceased among NFL players about the rule going into effect this season that will require them to wear thigh and knee pads during games. But most players also seem to have come to the realization that they’ll have no choice and they will have to wear the additional pads, like it or not.

“Guys are complaining … especially the older guys,” 11th year wide receiver Donte Stallworth said at the Washington Redskins’ training camp. “We’ve been in this game so long. I mean, if we personally felt like those pads would help us, we’d have been wearing them. Guys would have been wearing them for decades. They haven’t. So I don’t think it makes a difference from a protection standpoint. I don’t see the use of it. But like I said, it’s a rule we’ve got to abide by. So either you wear them and you comply or you don’t wear them and you get fined. It’s your decision.”

The league approved the rule last year as a safety measure but did not put it into effect until this season. NFL officials say that, among other things, the delay in implementation allowed time for lighter and stronger pads to be made by manufacturers.

“I think we wisely put off implementation until this year,” Merton Hanks, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, said in a telephone interview. “It was the wisest thing to do.”

NFL Players Association officials initially did not react positively to the league’s approval of the new rule about knee and thigh pads, saying there were more pressing player-safety matters that were not being discussed seriously by the league and union. But not all reaction from the players’ side has been negative. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said early in training camp that players’ complaints about the new rule were “BS.”

Hanks called player reaction “a mix,” and said: “Certainly to have the option to do something or being told to do something, most people prefer not to be told to do something. But this is a protective measure for all players. The talking points against it are not valid. When you have the MVP of the league, in his words, calling it BS, that’s all you need to know.”

But many players seem to be accepting the change only grudgingly.

“It’s a rule,” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. “You’ve got to follow it, I guess.”

Williams said he wore thigh padding after suffering a thigh bruise last season.

“After I got my thigh bruise, I started wearing thigh pads,” Williams said. “So it shouldn’t affect me … It doesn’t make a difference.”

Players at speed-based positions, such as wide receiver and cornerback, have been particularly resistant over the years to wearing such padding, worried that doing so would affect performance. Knee and thigh pads were mandatory for NFL players from 1979 to 1994 but became optional thereafter. The NFL estimates that about 30 percent of its players were wearing the pads before passage of the new rule.

“It’s tough,” Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said. “A lot of guys who haven’t been wearing them are probably not going to be comfortable the first time out. But you’ve been there before. It shouldn’t be something that takes long for us to get used to. You’ve got to wear them.”

According to the league, uniform inspectors will check during pregame warmups for compliance by players with the new requirement. If a violation is spotted during a game, the on-field officials will be informed and the referee is to tell that team’s head coach that the offending player must come out of the game until the violation is fixed.

Hanks said that enforcement “won’t be that difficult. It will be during dead-ball periods. I think teams will actually do a better job policing this than the league office. They don’t want a player taken from the field. At a certain level, it’s just unprofessional.”

Asked what effect the league projects the new rule to have on injury rates, Hanks said: “Come back and visit me in a year.”

Perhaps by then, all players will embrace the requirement more enthusiastically.

“I haven’t worn [those] pads since college,” Stallworth said. “I haven’t had any significant injuries personally that would be protected by a knee pad and thigh pad. I’m sure if you do a study, the studies will come out the same way too. But, I mean, we can complain and [whine] and moan all we want. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to wear them. So there’s no need in complaining.”

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

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What’s ahead:

● Friday’s practices are at 10 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. Saturday’s Fan Appreciation Day begins at noon. If you’re headed to Richmond, check our our guide to training camp for tips on getting autographs, where to park and things to do after the session is over.

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Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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Mike Jones · August 2, 2013

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