Why Don’t Football Players Wear Knee Pads Anymore?

Many football fans wonder why football players don’t wear knee pads anymore. The truth is NFL players still do while many college football plays don’t. Since 2013 NFL players have been forced to wear small knee pads underneath their football pants in order to protect their lower legs.

Prior to the 2013 rule that made these pads mandatory, many players begin to stop using thigh pads and knee pads while they played. In the name of health and safety the NFL decided that this padding needed to be made mandatory.

If any player decides not to wear knee or thigh pads in an NFL game they will be removed by the officials.

By the NFL estimates roughly 70% of the NFL had decided not to wear knee or thigh pads before this ruling was put into place.

Once the NFL began to enforce this equipment rule all players in the league were forced to make the change and add this equipment to their game.

Though this still begs the question what led so many NFL players to not wear knee pads in football?

To learn about topics similar to football players wearing knee pads see our guide to if football players can wear braces while they play or learn where neck rolls went in football.

Bulky Equipment Slows Players Down

One of the reasons many players stopped wearing knee pads in football was due to the bulkiness of the equipment.

Nowadays knee pads and thigh pads are quite small and are built in order to allow the player to move freely. Previously these pads were much bulkier and often made players feel more sluggish.

Though today’s knee pads are fairly sleek many college football players still prefer to play without them. The idea behind this being less equipment means more mobility and speed.

This is not a new phenomenon as football players have been shrinking the equipment they wear for years.

One look at the change in the size of shoulder pads over the year should show you how much these players value slimmer equipment.

You may notice different positions may dress bulkier than others. Quarterbacks often wear wristbands, fanny packs, and towels while running backs and wide receivers are less likely to wear extra equipment.

Players are happy to increase their risk of pain and injury in order to move more effectively on the field. Not wearing knee pads in football was one of the sacrifices many players made in order to move more freely.

Health And Safety Has Improved

Another reason that players may have stopped wearing knee pads in football prior to them becoming mandatory was the increase in health and safety in the league.

Throughout its history, the football governing bodies have always included rules that made the game safer for its players. Rules such as double-team blocks or banning wedges on kick returns are the sorts of rules that make this game safer.

With fewer dangerous hits happening to players they felt they would be able to get away with less equipment.

The NFL has put an emphasis on dealing with hits in dangerous locations on the body. One of those dangerous locations is the lower body. There are several rules put in place in order to ensure players’ knees and ankles aren’t injured as frequently.

This emphasis on safety may have led more players to ditch the knee pads.

They Are No Longer In Style

Another reason that there was a sharp decline in the use of knee pads in football is that they are no longer in style.

In the 80s and 90s bulkier and bigger pieces of equipment were considered the ideal look. As style changed players began to wear tighter and sleeker pads.

Since knee pads were optional until 2013 many players simply decided not to wear them as they did not like the look. At the time 70% of NFL players were not wearing these pads meaning you would likely stick out if you wore them.


We hope you have enjoyed this guide to knee pads in football. If you want to learn more about football equipment see our guide to flak jackets in football.

8 thoughts on “Why Don’t Football Players Wear Knee Pads Anymore?”

  1. Loosing protection for knee caps is total BS. They aren’t perfect but I saw a play this weekend where if the player had to do it overr he would wear pads. You can ask him after he recovers from his surgery. Knee cap was contacted by a helmet. Vanity is no reason to take off protection.

    • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaamen, Mr. Sexton. The NFL and NCAA are quite hypocritical. They claim loudly to be for player safety, but yet allow them to not wear knee pads. I know nowadays we want to be friends with our offspring (instead of the authority figure, and sadly from the age of 2), but wearing knee pads should be mandatory or they don’t play.

  2. It will increase the number of serious injuries, however football at all levels, has aways been damaging to lower extremities, wittiness the eight or so knee operations the Bear’s great Dick Butkcus endured. Perhaps the game is just inheritably dangerous to lower extremities.

  3. I think it’s crazy not to wear knee pads, players are still very susceptible to injury by choosing not to wear them. I understand how bulky they are and they do slow you down, but it’s more important to remain safety oriented. If and when the injuries start to mount, this should be made mandatory again.

  4. There was an alumni event at my high school tonight. I went as did several of my teammates. It was shocking to me to see how much the uniforms had changed since the 1970s. It was an enjoyable time together and our time won. Today’s uniforms do not protect enough.

  5. I perceive at least a couple of motivations that players and schools have to not wear them —all bad and stupid. As I understand it the NFL requires pads to be worn. The NFL reasons are all related to protecting the money they have invested.

    The stated Bull Shit of schools, however, is it is all about safety. They are so out there with their lies, as pads, even small ones, reduce the amount of force substantially from a blow. From a safety standpoint it is terribly foolish to play without them. These athletic department have been corrupted with the rest of the school.


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