In light of the National Football League (NFL) introducing more leniency when it comes to the cleats players choose to wear while performing, I became curious as to what reasons are behind the uniform policy and what it entails. This is what I have found.
The uniform policy is in place for three main reasons:
- To defend the athletes from injury by ensuring proper equipment is being used.
- To create a sense of team uniformity amongst players on game day.
- To protect the rights of NFL sponsors and the image of the NFL itself.
The policy addresses reason 1, the safety of players, but the majority of the language in the policy is tailored towards reasons 2 and 3.
Helmets, pads, stockings, and essential uniform pieces (jersey, pants, shoes) are all required and have provisions to establish the quality and safety of the equipment. That much of the policy is easy to understand. The rest of the 4 pages of text explains the extent of which players have control over how they wear the uniform, the extent of which, is practically non-existent.
The uniform policy has been criticized for being unreasonably strict. Upon further review of the policy, I can understand why this is the case.
Coordinating colors is reasonable. The policy requires that teams select a League approved base color of black or white to pair with one or two team colors for their uniform. This color pallete is used for equipment such as gloves, shoes, stockings, and tape. However, if even one minute piece of the uniform is out of order, the player is removed from the game until it is fixed. For example, if the team decided on a base color of black and the athlete has cleats with a base color of white, this goes against the policy and the athlete will be penalized.
Face protectors may be worn as long as they are no more than 5/6″ in diameter, are rounded, and not transparent. Shoelaces may not be tied around the shoe if they are too long. Towels have to be white and need to be pre-approved by the League and may not hang further than 6-8 inches below the waist.
Violations of the rules put forth in the uniform policy are punishable by removal from the game until the violation is fixed, a 5-yard penalty in some cases, and other penalties issued by the Commissioner such as fines and suspensions.
In soccer, players are allowed to wear whatever shoes they want with their uniform. Players use the opportunity to express themselves and in turn, sponsors such as Nike or Adidas who provide cleats can see a boost in sales from fans who want to don the boots of their favorite players.
Could the NFL allowing players to wear more expressive shoes improve the rate of return for its sponsors? Further, is this change in policy the beginning of reform of the League’s notoriously strict policy? I suppose we will have to see how far NFL players try to bend the new rule without breaking it and how far the “No Fun League” will allow them to go.