Why don't NFL players wear cups?
Come on, extra protection where it matters most won't make players less effective
For a moment, I soared.
Then, just as I passed over the goal line and gravity began to pull me and the football back down toward the FieldTurf and what was sure to be an awkward, unpleasant landing, the thought suddenly occurred to me that I was, more than likely, about to guillotine my junk.
Clearly, once again, I had not thought my assignment all the way through.
It was no one's fault but my own. After all, the idea for this particular experiment has been percolating since, oh, 2006. Then, as luck would have it, I suppose, during the Monday night game on Nov. 25, Robert Griffin III dropped back to pass and, instead, got kicked squarely in the family jewels by the 49ers' Aldon Smith. A week later, karma caught back up to the 49ers when, facing the Rams, tight end Vernon Davis hauled in a pass on a crossing route near the 40-yard line. A nation of men watching along at home then squirmed, winced, writhed, broke out in a cold sweat and then collectively collapsed into the fetal position as safety T.J. McDonald proceeded to tackle Davis from behind by seizing, um, by wrenching his, uh … oh forget it, I'll just let Vernon tell you: "… grabbing me right there in that space, that area, and I kept telling him, 'Let go, get off me, get off me' and he wouldn't let me go."
By Monday, Davis was still in a good deal of pain when he tweeted: "It should be a league rule saying that a defender can not tackle a player by his penis. #NFL the most painful thing ever! #NFL"
Once again we were all reminded of the odd but telling fact that in the NFL, while players happily sport extra padding to protect such vital body parts as the thigh, ribs and elbow, to a man no one in this game -- a contest, I should remind you, that is centered on violent, high-velocity collisions aimed at the torso -- bothers to, you know, WEAR A CUP.
(Oh, what I wouldn't give to hear Freud interpret this peculiar trend with professional football players.)
"I don't know if anybody wears cups," admits Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes. "It's funny, because when I played football in little league they had the cup check before the game. It was a requirement to tap to see if you had a cup. But once you got to high school and college and now, I don't see anybody wearing a cup, honestly."
Honestly, all you really need to know about the twisted machismo of NFL culture is that while players seem to prefer fewer rules meant to protect their brains, they are simultaneously lobbying the league through Twitter to enact more rules regarding the protection of their orbs. The league office seems to concur. Last year, Ndamukong Suh was fined $30,000 for kicking Matt Schaub in the groin. This season, after hitting Brandon Weeden in the head, Suh's fine was bumped all the way up to $31,500. In other words, by NFL standards, brains are worth exactly $1,500 more than testicles. God help us all.
I suppose it could be worse. I mean, Aussie footballer Anthony Watts was recently suspended for eight games for biting an opponent's penis during a match. In the book "NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football," author Anthony Gargano included this little gem from former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese about what happens while players scramble for a fumble at the bottom of the pile, a place where crotches become every bit as much a target as the ball. "[Former Patriots linebacker] Mike Vrabel grabbed my sac," Reese recalled. "We're all scrambling for the ball and Vrabel had my nuts so hard I was screaming."
After Davis was crowbarred on Sunday, reaction from around the league focused on McDonald's questionable tackling technique. "Why is he going after the man's goods like that?" asked Dallas defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. "What's wrong with him?"
But I still think the real question that should be asked is: What's wrong with all these guys? I mean, seriously, why in the hell isn't anyone in the NFL wearing a cup? "I think it's really a pride thing more than anything," says Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson. "I don't know one guy in the NFL that I've ever seen wear a cup. I think the biggest thing is that, we as players, have too much pride for it."
Ask Davis or Reese or anyone who has suffered the karate move "Monkey Steals the Peach" or the rugby ruck phenomena known as "scrotal degloving" and they'll tell you, if they're honest, that nothing works as well as the simple, centuries-old, unchanged genius of the athletic cup.
Yet, time and again, what you hear from current NFL players is that based on the rarity of a direct hit, the chaffing and reduction in mobility and speed from wearing a bulky cup just isn't worth it.
More from Flem File columnist and ESPN The Magazine writer David Fleming:
• Extra points aren't expendable
• Jim Harbaugh's greatest fits
• Measuring coach-QB relationships
• Cup check: Protection lacking
• 2013 Turkey of the Year Awards
• Beginning of end for NFL
• In appreciation of batted passes
• Who did it: Lions or Will Ferrell?
• Luck-Manning link goes way back
From The Mag
• Brees, Payton belong together
• Packers' blaze of glory
• OTL: Marathon of their lives
But really, how bad must this epic chaffing and mobility restriction be to offset the very real possibility of on-field castration? Oh, you think I'm exaggerating? Think I'm making all this up? Ask Bears cornerback Virgil Livers, the Joe Theismann of testicle injuries.
"I don't wear a cup," insists the Lions' Nate Burleson. "I think it's rare. I've been playing 10 years, and I've never got hit there. It happens, don't get me wrong. But it's one of those things that you try to be as fast and as sleek as possible, so I just never found any use for it."
Adds Jags linebacker Russell Allen, "It makes mobility difficult. They get in the way of moving around. It's like a big, hard plastic thing, and you're trying to move around and it affects your agility and your ability to move."
And for good measure, Browns linebacker Tank Carder chimes in with, "it restricts mobility and movement."
To which I am finally able to say: bollocks.
That's right, after Vernon's near-vasectomy and the usual "it could never happen to me" response from inside NFL locker rooms, in the name of scrotal science and safety I decided to get to the bottom of all this cup denial controversy.
By that, I mean, I went out to my garage, grabbed the cup out of my hockey equipment bag, put it in place and then walked to the football field at nearby Davidson College, where I performed a series of sprints, drills and, yes, goal-line dives, in order to measure the exact degree of lost speed and mobility as well as any chaffing or bouts of involuntary accidental circumcision and/or castration.
Here's what I found: nothing.
Honestly, once I got over the fact that while wearing shorts my cup codpiece made me look like a cross between a Star Wars storm trooper and former President George W. Bush in that flight suit, I hit the blocking dummies, ran a few 40s (at just north of 6.1 seconds) and a few 400s, and yeah, I even did some burpees and end zone dives.
All in all, I spent close to an hour on that field and, for the life of me I could find no discernible difference with, or without, the cup. There was no change in my sprint times. No change in my agility. No chaffing. No pinching. I'm most happy to report: no goal-line guillotining.
In the end, my left hammy screamed uncle long before anything else did.
Sure, I won't be able to walk for a week, but my ability to fulfill my end of a 4-million-year-old evolutionary requirement remains 100 percent intact. That's a normal, healthy, successful trade-off everywhere in the world -- except an NFL locker room.
"I have never worn a cup; I just never did," says Browns wideout Davone Bess. "Never thought about it. Now, maybe I'll give it some thought."
Hey, it's a start.
As for the rest of the NFL?
Like I've always said: Those guys are all nuts.
ESPN.com reporters Mike DiRocco, Pat McManamon, Mike Rodak, Michael Rothstein, James Walker, Calvin Watkins and Pat Yasinskas contributed to this report.
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