Hands Off: NFL Should Not Regulate Gloves

NFL fans have been treated to some absolutely ridiculous catches in the past few seasons. If you want to relive the most mesmerizing grabs of the 2014 season, here you are:

These catches are why football fans tune in on Sundays. People follow sports to see men and women perform astonishing, physics-defying feats of athleticism. These sorts of plays are what the leagues sell. In the NFL, amazing catches are especially electrifying. Running plays, while important, can make games monotonous, and nothing quite draws the attention of fans like the forward pass. Moreover, the best catches often occur in pivotal situations or swing the momentum toward one team. Intuitively, we would think the more unbelievable catches the better.

But the league has cast a more skeptical gaze on all these acrobatic, one-handed snags. ProFootballTalk reports that the NFL will take a look at the gloves receivers wear to determine if an unfair advantage has been gained. Rich McKay, chairman of the Competition Committee, noted that this equipment hasn't been examined in a long time though the technology has improved drastically. As an unnamed commentator at a league meeting in Indianapolis said, "Pretty soon, these gloves are going to be able to catch a ball without a hand in them."

The NFL is correct in saying that the technology has improved radically. In the 1970s, players used stickum, a synthetic adhesive available as a spray, powder, and paste. Despite being somewhat messy and thus obvious, players consistently used the stuff until it was banned in 1981. Even after the ban, players still tried to smuggle the adhesive onto their uniforms, gloves, or hands. Jerry Rice admitted to using it during his career, claiming that many players around him also defied the ban. 

As fierce competitors, players sought an edge on the field. Receivers most obviously had something to gain from stickum, but so did anyone who might have to touch the ball. In fact, Lester Hayes, a cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, used so much that the ban was nicknamed the "Lester Hayes rule." In fairness, the rule also prohibits any kind of slippery substance (e.g. lubricant on jerseys of defensive linemen). Ever since the ban, players have searched for a replacement. 

Enter "gloves with tactified surfaces," as the league officially calls them. So long as these gloves don't adhere to the football, they're allowed. But the NFL does not have strict or clear rules on what exactly that means. The newest technology, like Nike's Magnigrip, basically sticks to the ball. Nike's website publicizes as much about its gloves, which, by the way, Odell Beckham wore during his catch. The majority of players likely to handle the ball use sticky gloves because they work, plain and simple. Were he to "go commando," as Peyton Manning put it, a player would be sacrificing an edge. 

Offense sells tickets, and it's clear that gloves help in many aspects of offensive play. Receivers make great catches, but quarterbacks can make better throws. Manning wears gloves to improve his grip on the football. Harsh weather conditions used to be a quarterback's worst nightmare but now are more of an inconvenience. Running backs also benefit from sticky gloves. BenJarvus Green-Ellis wears gloves and didn't fumble for 589 carries to start his NFL career. Meanwhile, the defense can put the same equipment to use. For however many receptions a pair of gloves makes, there will be a corresponding number of interceptions those gloves make on the hands of CB or safety. These plays are exciting, and exciting is what fans want.

When NFL officials look into the rules concerning gloves, they should bear in mind one thing: fans want the most entertaining product on the field. A great catch could end up on Top 10 Plays, but a drop of a contested ball won't draw any attention after the next snap. Odell Beckham's catch, not Odell Beckham in a generic receiver stance, is on the cover of Madden 16. A touchdown reception will send a fantasy football player jumping off his couch in glee; a drop generates a few moments of disappointment. An interception sends a sports bar into pandemonium, but a deflection doesn't. 

Former receiver and football analyst Chris Collinsworth sums up the matter best: “I think if they took the gloves completely away from the guys, including the quarterbacks at this point, it would have a major impact on what the game looked like on the field...and not for the better. Every Sunday we say, ‘Oh, my goodness! Look at that!’ That’s a good thing. It’s an entertainment business. Why not make it as entertaining as possible?”

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