Monday, October 17, 2011

You're Wearing THAT?!? (Uniform Rules)

For today’s lesson, I wanted to get back to football basics, and it dawned on me that I haven’t touched on an element of football that comes into play long before kickoff:  uniforms.  As you might imagine, many of the rules related to the uniform are in place to ensure the safety of the players and to prevent uncompetitive advantages.  However, it may surprise you to learn that some requirements are all about business, determined by who’s sponsoring various elements of the NFL uni at the time.  This can be touchy because such restrictions often conflict with individual players’ endorsement contracts.  Generally speaking, though, the financial influence of uniform rules is limited to the pros, and, to some extent, college.  At the high school and youth levels, the rules are concerned with safety and fairness. 

Below is head-to-toe summary of the rules of the football fashion police:


1.  Only Riddell brand helmets can be used.

2.  Chin straps must be buckled at all times.

3.  Visors and eye shields on helmets must be approved by a private doctor, as well as an NFL doctor.  In youth and high school, helmet/eye shields cannot be shaded and players can only wear goggles if they are required by prescription.  The purpose here is player safety.  The officials must be able to see a player’s eyes so they can check for signs of a concussion or other head injury.

4.  Mouth guards are required at the youth and high school level, but not in the pros.

Jersey, Arms and Hands:

1.  Jersey shirttails must be tucked in.

2.  Jerseys must be large enough to cover the player’s pads.  If you remember the fashionable midriff-bearing short jerseys of the ‘80s, you either love or hate this rule.

3.  Players may not wear “tear-away” jerseys, or a jersey made of flimsy fabric that comes apart when pulled by an opponent.

4.  Sleeves must be up under the jersey or all the way down to the wrists—no ½ or ¾ sleeve nonsense.

5.  Only white athletic tape and black or white wrist bands are allowed.

6.  Those trendy rubber bracelets—e.g., “Live Strong,” “WWJD”—are prohibited.  This is the case in youth and high school, too.

Waist and Legs:

1.  Players are allowed to keep a towel tucked in their waistbands, but their size is restricted at all levels; 6” wide by 8” long in the NFL.  Towels are used by players that need to keep their hands (or the ball) dry:  quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks, and the center.

2.  Pants must be pulled down over the knee.

3.  Knee, thigh and hip pads are not required in the NFL, but they are at the youth and high school levels.

4.  Socks are actually in two parts in the NFL:  one part is white and the other is in a team color.  Both colors must show and the white sock has to come to the midpoint of the lower leg.  The other color must meet the bottom of the pants.  In youth and high school, socks need to be kept pulled up.

5.  Players can actually use any brand of shoe they want, but there are rules concerning coloring.  Each team can pick one accent color for their shoes, but there can be no contrasting colors on athletic tape or shoelaces.  Kickers and punters are exempt from these color prohibitions, however.


1.  No slippery substances of any kind are permitted on the body or any part of the uniform.

2.  The NFL has to approve any changes to the uniform a team wants to make to commemorate individuals or special anniversaries or events (e.g., helmet stickers or jersey patches).

3.  All NFL players and coaches must wear Reebok attire on the field.  For example, if a player wants to wear a baseball cap while on the sideline, it must be a Reebok cap.

4.  A player can be cited for violations from the moment he steps onto the field for pre-game warm-ups until 90 minutes after the game.  This means that a player can be fined if he wears offending clothing (e.g., a cap with the Nike logo) during the postgame press conference or TV interviews.

So, how seriously are these rules taken?  Very.  Each team must designate a liaison to meet with NFL and/or game officials before the game to learn of any violations.  That team rep then reports violations to the coaches.  Uniform inspectors are present at games (and those postgame press conferences) and the on-field officials must also keep an eye out for violations.  Fines can range anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 and increase during the playoffs ($50,000 for a first offense, $75,000 for the second), the Super Bowl ($100,000) and the Pro Bowl ($50,000).  Fines collected are distributed among several NFL charities.

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