(Linda Kaye/AP :: Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI)
(Linda Kaye/AP :: Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI)

Strapping on the Pads—All of Them

A former Pro Bowl safety, VP of football operations Merton Hanks is the NFL's point person for the mandate requiring players to wear knee and thigh pads in 2013

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

JENNY VRENTAS: For the first time since 1994, thigh and knee pads will be mandatory in the NFL this season. Why now?

HANKS: Under the direction of Commissioner Roger Goodell, well over four years ago, we did a top-to-bottom review of how we can affect the game to make a safer game. So looking at our padding for the players, it was clear that mandating lower-leg padding probably would be the way the NFL would go. So we began negotiations with the NFLPA, talking through different options on how that would work; we worked with our equipment manufacturers and suppliers, and gave the players, our clubs, our coaches and our ownership ample time to digest the issue. We certainly want to mitigate thigh and knee contusions, bruises that can cause lost days, lost playing time, lost practice time, and add that extra layer of protection. Unlike other sports, our players hit the ground, so any layer of protection that can be light and strong, and that a player can feel good about wearing, and be comfortable in, we feel it’s necessary we make that available to them.

VRENTAS: Some players have strong opinions about these pads becoming mandatory. Did you expect this resistance?

HANKS: Absolutely. I think we would be naïve to not acknowledge that when a player goes from wearing nothing to being made to wear something—as grown human beings, we tend to be resistant to change. This change is uniform, there is equity, and we certainly believe that it will provide certain protections for the lower leg that, quite frankly, were not there before. We’ve been in partnership with the players’ association from the very beginning, and that’s why the rule was passed in 2012, with implementation in 2013, to give players an opportunity to get used to carrying pads once again. The ultimate example I can give—not only for offensive players who are in position to be hit, like our MVP in Adrian Peterson—but also you have Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard at the safety position in the Super Bowl, wearing knee pads when they were not mandated and they did not have to do it. That tells you everything you need to know. That padding did not stop those players from making plays in the biggest game of the year, that did not stop them from winning a Lombardi Trophy, and hopefully added to the protection we are all seeking for all of our players.

VRENTAS: By the league’s estimate, only about 30% of players were wearing thigh and knee pads. Are you surprised that number was so low?

HANKS: No. Because players, as most human beings, will only do as much as they need to. In regard to lower-leg padding, it was not mandatory in the mid-90s, and as players during that time, of which I was one, you were always looking for ways to be lighter and faster, so many players eschewed the use of lower-leg padding at that time. The primary point of contention has now been solved. Every player except for the kicker and the punter will have lower-leg padding, so there is no advantage. Early in my career, I wore thigh and knee pads; later, the thigh pads. You couldn’t risk having your legs hurt, especially as a defensive back. When you can’t run, you can’t play, and certainly as a defensive back, where you are running maybe two to four miles a day, you can’t afford to have your thighs bruised or any contusions or that type of thing. I certainly wore thigh pads; Deion Sanders wore thigh pads, so it certainly won’t affect the speed of the athlete, by any stretch.

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6 comments
evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

Oh, please.  The man is just a shill.  The cold, hard fact is that if the pads provided benefits, players would wear them.  Like helmets.  You don't see any players saying, "We don't need helmets."  The NFL is just going the way of the rest of Amerika: lawyer-safe.

JimKelly
JimKelly

@evil.aaronm Anyone that's studied any kind of martial arts knows that you can slow a fighter down with a kick to the leg. Taking a helmet to the leg could injure it, in a rare instance, but a more likely outcome would be a charley horse or deep thigh bruise. It's comparable to something several times worse than the day after a heavy leg day. You could still function, but you won't want to, nor are you at optimum strength.

The cold, hard fact is that players stopped wearing them because they felt that they could run faster without them. I never understood that train of thought. I a NFL player is slowed down by eight ounces of additional padding, he shouldn't be in the NFL in the first place.

jnaber15
jnaber15

How do the thigh and knee constitute lower-leg?

eg3479
eg3479

Jenny, you should have asked him about loose fitting helmets. They are too loose fitting and fly off way to easily these days. And if they seem to be so concerned with head injuries, loose fitting helmets cause a secondary collision with the head and brain. I'd rather see this change than rule changes about helmet to helmet.

ClutchPrimetime
ClutchPrimetime

@eg3479 You are totally correct in seeing this as a proble but the helmets flying off is actually caused by the change from metal chin strap snaps to plastic snaps (in my experience).  I played in college when this change was made and the snaps become distorted during a hit and release.  I always wanted to change back but the helmets are checked.  Apparently the metal straps were cutting tacklers hands and arms and rumors were circulating that some players even sharpened the metal snaps. 

eg3479
eg3479

Jenny, you should have asked him about proper fitting helmets. They are way to loose fitting and fly off way to easily these days...

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