The NFL is a multi-billion dollar organization. With such income pouring into NFL stadiums on a weekly basis, it is easy to imagine how the powers that be can become a little stiff or rigid with their power. This is certainly the case with those in the league office who police uniform violations.
There has been a lot of news surrounding the rules of what is, and isn't, permitted to be worn by NFL players, and there have been several instances since the beginning of October which have lead to players getting fined for issues regarding the uniform policy, or denied the ability to do something they feel is a good cause.
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Anyone who turns on the TV on Sundays and sees the massive amount of pink being worn immediately is reminded of this declaration. This is a good thing, the more awareness brought towards such a horrible disease is a positive and something the NFL hangs their hat on. However, October is also the month other organizations use to try and drum up awareness for their specific cause.
Some other causes who use October as their calling card are Domestic Violence and Mental Health, both of which have had an impact on the NFL. Pittsburgh Steelers CB William Gay wears purple cleats throughout October to show support and draw awareness to Domestic Violence. If you aren't aware of Gay's story, it is worth looking up as he lost his mother to domestic violence. In 2014, Gay was fined for wearing the purple cleats, but in 2015 the NFL changed their stance and allowed him to wear them without any fine.
William Gay will not be fined for wearing purple cleats on Monday in support of domestic violence awareness month.— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) October 14, 2015
The same can't be said for New York Jets WR Brandon Marshall. Marshall suffers from mental illness and has requested the NFL allow him to wear green cleats (the color for mental health awareness), and has been rejected multiple times. Marshall continues to wear the green cleats and has decided to match his $10,000 fine by the NFL by donating the same amount to specific mental health organizations.
Here is the NFL's policy on shoes and cleats.
(g) Shoes must be of standard football design, including "sneaker" type shoes such as basketball shoes, cross-training shoes, etc. League-approved tri-colored shoes are permitted with black, white, and one team color. Each team must select a dominant color for its shoes, either black or white (with shoelace color conforming to the dominant color of the tongue area of the manufacturer's shoe). The selection of dominant color must be reported by each team to the League office no later than July 1 each year. Each player may select among shoe styles previously approved by the League office. All players on the same team must wear shoes with the same dominant color. Approved shoe styles will contain one team color which must be the same for all players on a given team. A player may wear an unapproved standard football shoe style as long as the player tapes over the entire shoe to conform to his team's selected dominant color. Logos, names, or other commercial identification on shoes are not permitted to be visible unless advance approval is granted by the League office (see Article 7). Size and location of logos and names on shoes must be approved by the League office. When a shoe logo or a name approved by the League office is covered with an appropriate use of tape (see Article 4(f)), players will be allowed to cut out the tape covering the original logo or name, provided the cut is clean and is the exact size of the logo or name. The logo or name of the shoe manufacturer must not be reapplied to the exterior of taped shoes unless advance approval is granted by the League office. Kicking shoes must not be modified (including using a shoelace wrapped around toe and/or bottom of the shoe), and any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe. Punters and placekickers may omit the shoe
from the kicking foot in preparation for and during kicking plays. Punters and placekickers may wear any combination of tri-colored shoes provided that the colors are consistent with those selected by the team and with the policy listed above.
When the Steelers played the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football, DeAngelo Williams had a platform to tell his story. Not just about how his mother died of breast cancer, but how he requested the NFL allow him to wear pink for the entire season, and not just during the Month of October. The NFL denied his request.
Such a request didn't have to be extravagant. Allowing a player to wear pink gloves, or gloves produced specifically for such a reason, certainly couldn't be such a horrible idea, right? Well when you look at the NFL's policy on gloves and their color, you get a glimpse into the nit-picking which goes on with the players and their appearance and apparel.
Approved Glove Color
(h) Gloves, wrappings, elbow pads, and other items worn on the arms below or over the jersey sleeves by interior offensive linemen (excluding tight ends) which are of a color different from that which is mandatorily reported to the League office by the club before July 1 each year. Such reported color must be white or other official color of the applicable team, and, once reported, must not be changed throughout that same season. Players at other positions (non-interior linemen) also may wear gloves provided they are a solid white, solid black, or a solid color that is an official color of the applicable club. Gloves may also be a tri-color combination of black, white, and one (1) official color of the applicable club. Gloves may also be a bi-color combination of black or white with one (1) official color of the applicable team. Clubs are not required to designate to the League office by July 1, the color of gloves that will be worn by their non-interior linemen.
The NFL is in a tough spot with the uniform. They have to ensure they are doing what is best for their product, while allowing players to have somewhat of a say in what they wear on a weekly basis. These requests are not suggesting players are allowed to put "He Hate Me" on the back of their jersey, but just a small way to help support a cause, even if it is a cause which isn't approved by the league office.
Just as recently as Wednesday, the NFL decided to fine Steelers' defensive lineman Cameron Heyward for having the words 'IRON' and 'HEAD' on his eye black strips in honor of his father 'Ironhead' Heyward who passed away from cancer.
The amount of the fine was not made public, but you can see why the league office would get some backlash over these minor uniform changes. After all, Heyward isn't the only player to have writing on his eye black strips, and if the league fines every player who does such a thing they are quite busy from Sunday to Wednesday.
Here is what the policy states about personal messages.
Article 8: Throughout the period on game-day that a player is visible to the stadium and television audience (including in pregame warm-ups, in the bench area, and during postgame interviews in the locker room or on the field), players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office. Items to celebrate anniversaries or memorable events, or to honor or commemorate individuals, such as helmet decals, and arm bands and jersey patches on players' uniforms, are prohibited unless approved in advance by the League office. All such items must relate to team or League events or personages. The League will not grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages, through helmet decals, arm bands, jersey patches, or other items affixed to game uniforms or equipment, which relate to political activities or causes, other non-football events, causes or campaigns, or charitable causes or campaigns. Further, such armbands and jersey patches must be modest in size, tasteful, noncommercial, and non-controversial; must not be worn for more than one football season; and if approved
for use by a specific team, must not be worn by players on other teams in the League.
This brings up the general question of how you can draw the line from allowing one player to wear purple cleats, but another isn't allowed to wear green. It is a fine line, and just the latest bullet point in why many consider the NFL to stand for the No Fun League. When these minor alterations have nothing to do with any outcome of the game, the NFL certainly could allow the players a little bit of freedom to express themselves in a public forum. After all, we aren't talking about Stevie Johnson pulling up his jersey to show a message on an undershirt, or Joe Horn pulling a cell phone from underneath the goal post, or Terrell Owens having a marker in his sock to sign a football, or countless players who break rules which actually impact the game.
The NFL gets plenty of negative publicity, and rightfully so, but this is a publicity war which could be avoided by the league simply lightening up a bit. Anyone who has followed the NFL knows that won't happen. Until then, this will be a narrative against the current regime under Roger Goodell, and from the looks of it, he could care less.