American football protective equipment

American football protective equipment

American football protective equipment ("football gear") consists of equipments worn by football players for the protection of the body during the course of football games. Basic equipments worn by almost all football players include a helmet, shoulder pads, a jockstrap (aka athletic supporter), gloves, shoes, and thigh and knee pads. Neck rolls, elbow pads, mouth guards, hip pads, tailbone pads, rib pads, and other equipments may be worn in addition to the aforementioned basics. Football protective equipment is made of synthetic materials: foam rubbers, elastics, and durable, shock-resistant, molded plastic. Football protective equipment has remained consistent in use for decades with some slight modifications made over the years in design and materials. The assignment, care, and maintenance of football gear belongs to the team equipment manager. American football portal Commons|American football Commons|College football Commons cat|American football equipment


The professional football helmet consists of several distinct parts: the shell, jaw pads and air bladders, face mask, chin strap, and mouth guard. The shell is constructed of hard plastic with thick padding on the inside, a face mask made of one or more metal bars, and a chinstrap used to secure the helmet. Helmets are a requirement at all levels of organized football, except for non-tackle variations such as flag football. Although they are protective, players can and do still suffer head injuries such as concussion.

Each position has a different type of face mask to balance protection and visibility. There are at least 15 different facemask styles. New design for the helmet includes an integrated faceguard featuring shock absorbing "Energy Wedges" that reduce the force of impacts to the faceguard.

The NFL allowed wireless communication in regular-season games in 1994. Rather than coaches calling a time-out in order to give a play to a quarterback, many of today's teams are opting for radios inside their quarterback's helmet. The helmets are set up with a small speaker in each ear hole. Quarterback coaches or offensive coordinators on the sidelines talk to the quarterback with a radio, giving him specific plays and options. Players from the "old school" might argue that this creates an unfair advantage, but proponents say that the radio helmets make for clear coach-to-QB communication, even in large, noisy games like the Super Bowl.

NFL rules state that all helmets with a headset in them must have a visible green dot on the back. Since only the quarterback can have a wired helmet, it stops other players using the quarterback's helmet. A few times in 2006 the holder on the field goal attempt was told to pull up and throw or run at the last second because of a change the coaches saw on the field. This gave teams an "unfair advantage" in the eyes of the NFL. The new rules let each team know who is wearing a headset and who is hearing the plays being called.

According to a press interview held with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the quality of the sound is good, but crowd noise factors in. “It’s about like what you’d hear over a loudspeaker,” said Bucs QB Shaun King. “It can be hard to hear when there’s a lot of noise on the outside, but it’s pretty clear.”

A more recent addition to the football helmet is a visor or eyeshield, traditionally used to protect players from eye injuries or glare. Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was the first to wear a visor/shield. The visors started out as clear or smoked, but now come in colors ranging from blue, gold, black, rainbow, silver, or amber. The visor/shield is used at the player's discretion.

The helmet fitting process starts by measuring the player's head with calipers. Based on measurements taken, a helmet shell of the appropriate size and style is chosen Then, padding is added to ensure that the helmet fits the player's head. Padding consists of both foam rubber pads and inflatable (air) pads. Both the top and side padding include inflatable bladders that customize the fit. Once the helmet is in place on the player's head, the inflator bulb is applied to two points on the outside of the helmet. The jaw pads are fitted to ensure that the lower part of the helmet is snug against the player's face. The helmets that most NFL teams use are remarkably light, and once the pads are in place, there is no movement or shifting on the player's head.

Football helmets are painted in team colors and bear team insignia decals.

There are several styles of face masks and chin straps available. The selection is left to the player, with quarterbacks generally selecting more open masks with maximum visibility.

Off the gridiron, football helmets figure in the masculine decorative schemes seen in home dens, bars, and rec rooms, for example. Antique and vintage leather football helmets are collectibles and often realize substantial sums.

Shoulder pads

The shoulder pads consist of a hard plastic outer shell with shock-absorbing foam padding underneath and are the most intricate pieces of equipment a player wears. The pads fit over the shoulders and the chest and rib area, and are secured with various snaps and buckles. Shoulder pads give football players their typical "broad-shouldered" look, and are fitted to an adult player by measuring across the player's back from shoulder blade to shoulder blade with a soft cloth measuring tape and then adding 1/2 inch. For comfort, shoulder pads are sometimes worn in conjunction with a shoulder pads cushion of foam rubber over a cotton half-tee.

Shoulder pads accomplish two things for a football player: (1) they absorb some of the shock of impact through deformation. The pads at the shoulders are strung on tight webbing and deform on impact, and (2) they distribute the shock through a larger area so there is less pressure at the point of impact.

Various styles exist for different positions played. Pads for a quarterback are lightweight and offer freedom of movement. Pads for linemen are designed with few flaps and epaulets, thus reducing the opportunity for being grabbed by the opposition. Some football teams stock as many as 12 different styles (essentially one style for every position), with four different sizes per style.

A number of custom fitting and padding options are also available, depending on each player's body type and injuries. At the discretion of the player, team physician, or equipment manager, Velcro is sometimes used to attach additional pads to build up protection or to take pressure off an injury by bridging over it. Attachments include spine protectors and rib protectors.

A player may have a preference for vinyl straps and metal buckles or elastic straps as closures. Adult shoulder pads typically start at $90.00 and may reach $350.00 or more. Researchers at the University of Florida's College of Medicine have developed a way to air condition shoulder pads that is designed to regulate players' body temperatures during games and practices.

Jockstrap, or athletic supporter

A typical jockstrap used in football is constructed of a wide elastic waistband with a support pouch of cotton/elastic to contain the genitalia. Two wide elastic straps affixed to the base of the pouch and to the left and right sides of the waistband at the hip complete the garment. The pouch, in some varieties, may be fitted with a pocket to hold an impact resistant cup to protect the testicles and penis from injury. College football players may be required to wear a cup jockstrap. The jockstrap is the one piece of equipment used in football that predates the sport itself. In 1874, Charles Bennett of the Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp & Smith, created the "bicycle jockey strap" for bicycle riders (or, bicycle jockeys as they were then known). Other athletes adopted the jockey strap in their sports. A mass marketing in 1902 claimed the garment, now termed an "athletic supporter" was "medically indicated" for all males that engaged in sports or strenuous activity.

Jerseys and pants

The main purpose of these two garments is to identify the player by name and number, and by his team colors.

Jerseys. The front and back of the jersey are usually nylon, with spandex side panels to keep it taut. The goal is to make it difficult for an opposing player to grab hold of the jersey and use it for leverage. To help this process: Jerseys have an extension at the bottom that wraps around from front to back to keep the jersey tucked in. Jerseys have a wide strip of Velcro at the rear that mates with Velcro inside the waistband of the pants. Many players apply two-sided carpet tape to their shoulder pads so that the jersey sticks to the pads. The players individually choose which of these features (if any) they will use. Each professional football player is usually equipped with a set of practice jerseys as well as four game jerseys. Players will change jerseys at half time if it is raining. Jerseys will usually have a variety of patches affixed to the shoulders or other parts of the garment. Patches may depict the American flag, the team logo, or other significant information.

Pants. Pants are manufactured in nylon and mesh (for hot weather practices), and nylon and spandex for a tight fit (with team colors) for games. Most pants are manufactured with the traditional lace-up fly as a zippered fly is impractical and subject to damage due to stress in the rough and tumble of the game. The interior sides of the pants legs contain four individual pockets to hold two thigh pads (one for each leg) and two knee pads. The pads are placed in the pockets before the pants are put on in the locker room. The pants are secured with a belt, sometimes with a traditional metal buckle or with several rings. Game-used jerseys and pants are sports collectibles, with those of celebrity athletes realizing high sums.


If the team is playing on Astroturf, there are three general shoe styles that are used depending on the weather. The goal is to wear the least amount of "bottom" possible. In dry conditions, very light bottoms are used. In damp conditions, a thicker sole is more appropriate. And in wet conditions the team switches to shoes that have very thick soles. On natural grass fields, players can use molded-bottom shoes. Although molded bottoms tend to be more comfortable (and players are more likely to wear them in practice), they are not adjustable to changing conditions. The players then wear seven-stud cleats on grass fields. Cleats come in four sizes: 1/2 inch (at the start of the season on dry fields); 3/8 inch (for normal field conditions once fields have been used in several games); 3/4 inch (for wet or soft fields); 1 inch (for extreme conditions). If it rains in the middle of a game on a grass surface, the equipment manager and his staff have to replace all of the cleats on 53 pairs of shoes with electric stud drivers. On Astroturf, players have to change shoes. Many players tape their shoes and most wear orthopedics to custom-fit them, so the process involves untaping the shoes, pulling out the orthopedics, putting the orthopedics in the shoes the player is switching to and then retaping.


Hip, tail, thigh, and knee pads

Quilted hip pads date to the 1890s and are one of the earliest pieces of protective football gear known. Today, hip and tailbone pads are made of plastic and protect the hips, pelvis, and coccyx or tailbone. The pads are inserted into the pockets of a girdle worn under the football pants. Thigh and knee pads are made of plastics and inserted into pockets constructed inside the football pants.

Mouth guard

Sports mouthguards (also termed athletic mouthpieces, football protectors, or spelled "mouth guards") are plastic dental appliances which when worn can help to protect the hard and soft tissues of the mouth from damage caused by traumatic blows and collisions. Mouth guards are simple half-moons of plastic with a strap on the end which hooks around the face mask so it isn't lost during play. Fitting a mouth guard is simple: it is placed in warm water, allowing the plastic to soften. Then the player puts the mouth guard in his mouth, leaving an imprint of his teeth and gums. As the plastic cools, the mold hardens. The result is a mouth guard specific to one player's mouth.

Neck rolls

The last piece of equipment that a player can use to protect his head and neck is a neck roll. This foam roll fits around the back part of the jersey's neckline, and is intended to protect the head from being pushed too far backward or to lessen the blow when the head is snapped backward.


Many receivers wear gloves that either have a sticky rubber palm, called tact gloves, or are covered with a sticky substance like rosin or a sticky spray. Linemen also wear gloves, using their hands to fight off opposing linemen. The gloves worn by linemen usually are lined with a thick padding to better protect fingers and hands, which sometimes are caught in an opponent's face mask or are stepped on. Players are not permitted to put gels or "stick 'ems" on their gloves.

"Suiting up"

A football player "suits up" in the team locker room shortly before a game is to begin. In general, the football player will first don equipments laying close to the skin: the jockstrap, half-tee, and socks, for example. The thigh pads and knee pads are inserted into their appropriate pockets in the player's football pants and the pants drawn on with the fly laces then tied and the belt buckled. Following (in no specific order) will be shoes, shoulder pads, jersey, wrist or elbow pads if worn, neck rolls, helmet and gloves. Players usually enter the stadium wearing their complete equipments including helmet and gloves. During the course of the game, the helmet, mouth guard, and gloves may be removed when a player is not physically participating on the field. Football players on the sidelines occasionally use the helmet as a stool. Equipment is removed in the locker room immediately following the game with equipment managers and others then assuming responsibility for cleaning, care, and maintenance of gear. Helmets are often buffed or repainted before upcoming games to cover or remove scuffs and marring. Shoulder pads are examined for wear, and broken or damaged parts replaced.

Equipment management

The role of an equipment manager has become an important one for football teams. The equipment manager has two main areas of responsibility: first, fitting each player on the team with a customized array of equipment that will provide maximum protection against injury, and, secondly, being responsible for the logistics of handling many pieces of equipment on a daily basis -- keeping it repaired and in stock, and moving the equipment for road games.


* [ Antique Athlete: Vintage Football Equipment]
* [ Grall's Den: Visitors in Gear]
* Long, Howie, and Czarnecki, John. "Football for Dummies". For Dummies; 3rd ed., 2007. ISBN 0470125365.
* Newell, Kevin. "Gridiron Greats: Football Equipment That Scores!". An article from "Coach and Athletic Director". Thomson Gale, January, 2005.
* Pronger, Brain. "The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex". St. Martin's Griffin, 1992. ISBN 0312062931.
* Theismann, Joe, and Tarcy, Brian. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Football". Alpha; 2nd ed, 2001. ISBN 0028641671.

External links

* [ The Helmet Project]

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