Do the NFL’s Rules About Uniforms Actually Make Sense?

The NFL has a history of enforcing rules in a way that many people believe strips away the fun and individual personalities of the football players. From punishing players who wear symbolic colors on their socks and armbands to the recent helmet drama, uniform regulations cover everything from aesthetics to player safety.

While some of these rules make sense, others fall into a gray area. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated recently used his platform to defend the NFL’s enforcement of such strict rules, specifically the ones that do not deal with safety. 

Colors, accessories, and more

The moniker “No Fun League” is often used to describe the NFL’s enforcement of not only uniform rules but in-game celebrations and behavior. The league doesn’t help its cause when they fine players like former cornerback William Gay. In 2015, he was fined for wearing purple cleats in honor of his mother who died because of domestic violence. Deadspin pointed out that this kind of fine was not uncommon around that same time.

Benoit argues there’s a good reason behind this enforcement. Although the NFL is a football league, they’re tasked with ensuring the overall product is desirable — this includes aesthetics. Citing players like Jonathan Stewart, who wore his Oregon shoulder pads under his Panthers jersey, he points out how unappealing this contrast was to look at. 

He also points out that the NFL doesn’t forbid contrasting colors outright. Wearing pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month is a sign that the NFL isn’t afraid to let players stand up for a cause. Detractors, however, argue that forbidding players from using their uniforms for unsanctioned causes is stifling free speech. 


Benoit goes on to say that by strictly enforcing these rules, they’re making it fair for the entire league. If the league started to pick and choose when and when not to enforce uniform rules, this could result in its own set of problems. The regulations don’t end with individual players, either. The NFL is involved with every minor uniform change a team wants.

This is for good reason. Benoit cites the importance of contrasting team uniforms, like when the Jets, Packers, or Eagles play each other. Without the league ensuring the three levels of green are different, the game will be confusing for both the players and viewers to watch.

Rules behind the numbers

Fans who pay attention may notice trends regarding the numbers players wear. This isn’t just an unspoken rule; it’s a requirement from the NFL. The league requires quarterbacks to wear 1-19 and linebackers to wear numbers in the 40s and 50s. Wide receivers must wear numbers in the 80s. According to Benoit, this helps prevent “chaos” as we see in college. But is this the truth? 

Benoit claims this helps us know a player’s position, but some could argue this doesn’t stop other sports from allowing a little freedom. From a birth year to a lucky number, players in sports like basketball often use their number to give some sort of message. Is the NFL preventing them from freedom of choice? 

Too far?

Benoit raises some good points about why the NFL has these rules. But some still wonder why the league cares about uniforms when there are bigger issues to resolve. Others may be curious about why players raising awareness for causes would be worthy of a fine, while players who do far worse get a slap on the wrist. Whatever side people fall on, the rules are there for a reason, and the NFL shows no sign of loosening them.