By Cam Smith ’21
Assistant Sports Editor
The NFL, often labeled the “No Fun League,” is notorious for restricting players’ freedom to wear cleats of their choosing. If the league wants to keep up with the times, that needs to change.
Recently, the cleat controversy has centered around Cleveland Browns wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. A week nine game against the Denver Broncos saw the pair sport unauthorized cleats in the first half of the game, before being forced to change at halftime by a league dress code official. If they refused to comply, the duo would have been banned from participating in the second half of the game and would likely have faced further league punishment.
The fact that this can occur is ridiculous on two fronts. The first being the hypocrisy it displays, as the league very much profits off of the individuality of its stars. In Beckham’s case, the league has gone to great lengths to promote him as one of the faces of the game, featuring him and his flashy play style in everything from commercials to award shows.
The league intentionally highlights Beckham as one of the great personalities in the game in an effort to draw viewers in. That is why it is so abhorrent that they then restrict him in the one area where he can creatively express himself on the field.
Secondly, the absurd nature of the rule is amplified by another American sports league’s recent update on its footwear policy. The NBA changed its dress code rule to allow for sneakers of any color, with designs of the player’s choice. This season, players have already flaunted everything from SpongeBob SquarePants to Minnie Mouse on their basketball sneakers.
“You can learn a little bit more about a guy when you see what he’s putting on his shoe, whether it’s a social campaign or his love for a movie or character or something like that,” said Colleen Garrity, the Vice President of basketball marketing at Excel Sports Management, an agency which represents multiple NBA stars.
Indeed, this increased knowledge of players’ interests has already allowed for greater fan interaction, as fans can now better connect with players they know share similar interests. So too has it added some much needed personality to games sometimes filled with boring and monotonous uniform colors. The NFL has no reason not to follow suit.
Finally, with the advent of items such as social media, players have been given more substance to their public personas beyond simply the uniform and team they play for. Gone are the days of football being just about football, and the cleats the players wear should reflect this.
The NFL must catch up with the changing times.
By Scott Jarosz ’21
Many controversies have risen as of late relating to the National Football League’s strict policies about the gear its players can wear during games, and specifically the cleats the players can wear. The league’s strict policies have earned it the nickname the “No Fun League” in recent years, as players have little freedom in terms of wearing customized cleats during games.
In some cases, players have donned customized cleats that are designed to support good causes, such as when Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. sported cleats that raised awareness for cancer research back in 2016.
However, for the most part, giving players freedom to wear whatever they choose welcomes the possibility that players could wear cleats that contain imagery that is inconsistent with the league’s values. These types of unwanted situations would negatively affect the league’s image. This is why the NFL should continue to enforce its relatively strict policies surrounding custom cleats, as doing so helps maintain leaguewide consistency and also prevents players from wearing controversial gear that harms the perception of the league.
Back in 2017, the NFL updated its footwear policy to allow players more freedom in wearing cleats with custom designs. The new policy allowed for players to wear approved cleats with custom designs during team warmups as well as pregame activities.
However, during games, players would be required to wear cleats that are black, white, or team colors. This policy allowed players to show their true colors during warmups, but also maintain consistency with their uniforms during games. This policy returned to the spotlight on November 3, 2019 when Odell Beckham Jr. wore “The Joker”-themed cleats and Jarvis Landry wore flashy gold cleats during a game. The league informed the players that they would have to change their footwear to adhere to league standards at halftime or else they would be prohibited from participating in the second half. The league’s enforcement of its rules during this situation was fully justified, as the players knowingly acted against the footwear policy.
The NFL, just like any other work environment, has a dress code that its “employees” must follow or else they will be asked to change. If the league were to make exceptions to this rule, it would face even more criticism. By enforcing its footwear policy, the NFL ensures that it produces a consistent on-field product that is organized and prevents further controversies from arising.