Pad rule proposal sparks resistance

BY Alex Marvez • May 21, 2012

An NFL rules proposal that would require mandatory use of thigh and knee pads starting with the 2013 season will meet strong resistance from the NFL Players Association if approved Tuesday at the league’s spring meeting.

A source told that the NFLPA believes the measure would violate the collective bargaining agreement reached with the league last year in regard to “working conditions.” If the proposal is passed by at least 75 percent of NFL owners (24 of 32), the NFLPA plans to file a grievance with an arbitrator.

The NFLPA contends that mandatory pad use could become approved only from a side-letter agreement with the league to the CBA, the source said. The NFLPA also was aware that the proposal would be presented for a vote at the NFL’s spring meeting.

The NFL is proposing the pad rule as part of commissioner Roger Goodell’s player safety initiatives. But a source tells that the league hasn’t presented the union any firm data that prove the use of thigh and knee pads would decrease injuries despite multiple NFLPA requests.

“It sounds obvious that it would (reduce injuries), but it’s not necessarily true,” the source said.

The NFLPA also is facing resistance from players who don’t want to wear thigh or knee pads for a variety of reasons. One of them is comfort, especially among wide receivers and cornerbacks, positions where speed is a maximum.

“Guys want to feel as sleek as possible,” NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth told last year. “Anything that inhibits that makes them feel it’s slowing them down or getting in their way. Some guys have never played with those pads. It’s difficult for them to wrap their heads around it mentally.”

There also is an aesthetics issue because some players believe they will play "faster" and with more confidence if their uniforms look sleek.

Some players who eschew padding instead use plastic shells. Those who don’t wear any padding may be more susceptible to injuries like a bruised quadriceps muscle. For example, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant wasn’t wearing pads when he suffered that injury in the 2011 regular-season opener against the New York Jets. Bryant was forced to miss the next game and needed several weeks before fully recovering.

NFL teams cannot fine a player who doesn’t wear knee or thigh pads. They can levy a fine if a player without those pads suffers a related leg injury during practice.

The NFLPA’s stance against the padding proposal is yet another sign of the rift between the union and NFL. The NFLPA has helped four players file a grievance against the suspensions that Goodell handed down for their alleged involvement in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. The NFL and NFLPA also remain unable to agree upon protocols for human growth hormone testing.