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NFL making thigh and knee pads mandatory in '13

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, May 23 2012 4:10 a.m. MDT

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones speaks to the media as he leaves an NFL owners meeting Tuesday, May 22, 2012, in Atlanta.

David Goldman, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ATLANTA — The NFL's move to make thigh and knee pads mandatory equipment for the 2013 season already has drawn criticism from the guys who will have to wear them.

Not long after Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said at an owners meeting Tuesday that the league can apply the decision unilaterally, the players union and several members expressed their dissatisfaction.

First, the NFL Players Association argued that the move should be negotiated.

"Any change in working conditions is a collectively bargained issue," the union said in a statement. "While the NFL is focused on one element of health and safety today, the NFLPA believes that health and safety requires a comprehensive approach and commitment. We are engaged in and monitor many different issues, such as players' access to medical records, prescription usage and the situation with professional football's first responders, NFL referees.

"We always look forward to meeting with the NFL to discuss any and all matters related to player health and safety."

Then the players spoke up.

"I hate that," Raiders linebacker Travis Goethel said. "I don't want that at all. I don't like having anything restricting my movement in my legs. If you get hit in the thigh, it really doesn't do too much to help you out."

Added Broncos cornerback Drayton Florence:

"My opinion is that I don't want to wear them, but you have to follow the rules and policies. I just think that's a way for them to kind of cover themselves with things that have been going on in the past" such as concussions suffered in collisions with knees or thighs.

Commissioner Roger Goodell can't see any downside to extra protection. He noted that the NFL and union have been discussing hip, knee and thigh pads for three years.

"I believe the technology has improved, the pads are far better than a decade ago, they allow better performance and are more protective. Every other level of football uses the pads."

Goodell pointed out something a Nike executive told him recently: NBA players are wearing more pads from the hips down than NFL players.

"There is something wrong with that," Goodell said.

Should a player not have the pads on when he enters a game in 2013, he will be sent off the field by a game official.

"It's the same as if he ran on without a helmet," McKay said. "It is a safety rule."

The pads rule would not go into effect on the field until next year so equipment manufacturers can work on safety and comfort.

Goodell said he expects evidence in the Saints bounties case would be made public after all the player appeals and grievances have been heard. Release of any documents also could be delayed by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma's defamation lawsuit against Goodell after the commissioner suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season.

Goodell said he has "not spent a lot of time" on the lawsuit in which Vilma contends the commissioner made false statements that tarnished Vilma's reputation and hindered his ability to earn a living playing football.

"I've been around this league for 30 years and you are going to make decisions that will not be unanimous, it just doesn't happen, particularly in a game where there is a lot of emotion, a lot of passion," Goodell said. "What I have to do is what is in best interests of the game long term.

"You watch Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue, you are part of the decision-making process, and you see how they go about it. You watch other leagues, try to take in every perspective.

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