The N.F.L.’s uniform policy has long been a source of some of the league’s most inane “controversies.” The immense list of restrictions for what players can wear has resulted in fines over everything from cleat color (Saints running back Alvin Kamara was fined $5,000 for wearing red and green shoes in a Christmas Day game) to untucked jerseys (Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb drew a $15,450 fine for his second such offense last season.).
The league employs 64 “uniform inspectors” who carefully examine players on game days to ensure that they are following the rules. Each week the league levies fines for policy violations, and just two weeks into the regular season, players are fed up with the enforcement of one part of the rule: pant length.
Showing too much skin is prohibited by Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3, Item 4, which states that “Pants must be worn over the entire knee area; pants shortened or rolled up to meet the stockings above the knee are prohibited.” The only exception is if a player wears a device — say, a knee brace — that replaces the removed material. Players who violate uniform rules are fined $5,305 on the first offense and $15,914 on the second.
The issue has been especially contentious for kickers and punters, who seemed to band together for a brief period on social media to express their dismay at having been fined for the transgression. The loudest of them was Los Angeles Rams kicker Matt Gay, who posted pictures on Twitter of him wearing comically baggy uniform pants that covered well below his knees. His header photo on the app showed him attempting a kick while wearing pants that stopped above his knees.
“Thanks guys now I feel safe and can do my job super well,” Gay wrote in his tweet, “sorry my third pic I’m showing leg skin #fined.”
Giants kicker Graham Gano joined in the public criticism of the policy, posting an Instagram message that read, “Thanks @NFL for fining kickers and punters all over the league $5k+ for not wearing our pants below our knees. What an absolute joke Roger Goodell … ”
This isn’t the first time the N.F.L. has harped on players’ knees. The receiver Odell Beckham Jr. posted to Instagram the $14,037 fine he received for the same pants issue in 2019, calling the penalty “ridiculous” and adding: “14k for some pants that are NOT gonna protect me from anything …”
It is unclear why the league mandates that players cover their knees during games. The N.F.L. declined to comment for this article and in its response pointed to official uniform policies.
Bradley Pinion, a punter for the Atlanta Falcons, was quick to point out that the rule regarding showing knees has been inconsistently enforced. He posted a game-day picture to Instagram that showed him wearing pants that finished well above his knee while punting for the San Francisco 49ers eight years ago.
Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo reposted the image, adding, “Cover y’all knees the second fine is crazy,” referring to the nearly $16,000 penalty a second infraction could incur.
He was fined after the Falcons’ loss to the Saints in Week 1, when he successfully connected on four of his five field goal attempts, including two of at least 50 yards. In the game, he wore his white uniform pants well above his knees.
When reached for comment on social media, Koo said that kickers and punters tend to wear shorter pants, because they feel longer pants hinder their performance. “I don’t like anything over my knees,” Koo wrote. “It feels like it restricts my leg movement.”
While kickers and punters seemed to be the loudest on social media, they weren’t the only players who have been penalized. Houston Texans defensive end Jerry Hughes posted his fine letter to Twitter writing, “Out here fighting for a W!!! But y’all want me to focus on how my pants are riding up.” And 49ers safety George Odum was fined during the preseason for the same reason.
But players at other positions don’t seem to be as directly impaired in their primary task as kickers. To wit, in Week 2 Koo trotted onto the field for his first attempt, a 44-yarder that would have given the Falcons an early lead over the Rams. With his black pants fully covering his knees, Koo missed wide left.