The brouhaha surrounding an NFL safety rule that mandated the use of thigh and knee pads ultimately proved nothing but fluff.
In May 2013, the league announced such equipment would become mandatory on game days. The decision was implemented with the hope the padding requirement would provide better protection and result in a reduction of leg injuries.
It also became controversial. Players spoke out against being forced to wear thigh and knee pads for a variety of reasons ranging from comfort to appearance to the belief they reduced on-field speed. The NFL Players Association also contended that the padding rule constituted a change in working conditions, thus requiring collective bargaining between the union and league to reach an agreement.
Plenty of other issues still remain contentious and unresolved between the NFL and NFLPA, such as the failure to agree upon a human growth hormone testing policy. But pads are no longer one of them.
The NFLPA told FOX Sports 1 that only a small amount of fines were levied to players who tried to skirt the pad rule and were caught by gameday uniform inspectors. The union and its constituents are also no longer actively contesting the matter.
"Our experience is that the players have been following the rules," NFLPA executive George Atallah told FOX Sports 1. "There doesn’t seem to be enough of a sample size to determine a reduction on injuries. The union continues to look at and review all health and safety initiatives."
The NFL also told FOX Sports 1 that one season didn’t provide enough time to evaluate whether mandatory thigh and knee pads are curtailing injuries. The league’s study will continue during the 2014 season.
In a league-released e-mail to FOX Sports 1, NFL Vice President of Operations Merton Hanks described the first season with mandatory pads as an "overall success."
"As with every season, there were equipment and uniform fines for improper equipment and uniform presentation," Hanks said. "We will continue to be diligent in rules enforcement. Fortunately, our equipment and uniform inspectors consistently aided players in making equipment adjustments to avoid fines for improper knee and thigh padding.
"An informal survey of head coaches and general managers state that this is now a non-issue and is a part of the fabric of the NFL."
Despite the potential health risk, it was rare for NFL players to wear an entire set of pads before the 2013 mandate. The league helped curtail player complaints by working with an equipment company to provide the smallest and most comfortable type of padding possible that would still provide sufficient protection.
Free-agent safety Mike Adams, a 10-year NFL veteran who spent the past two seasons with Denver, said the new pads also were appealing enough aesthetically to satisfy most players.
"A lot of guys, including myself, look at it as a fashion thing until you get hurt," a laughing Adams told co-host Phil Savage and I on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "I didn’t like to wear pads all the time. I liked the clean look. For some guys, the pads just look too bulky.
"And it’s a mind thing. You think the pads slow you down a little bit. But I guess it worked out fine."