Why NFL Players Don't Wear Sleeves Even In Dangerously Cold Games

Perhaps you’ve heard it’s going to be cold during today’s Green Bay Packers game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Perhaps you’ve also heard that “cold” is an understatement. Weather.com says it will feel like -17 degrees during the heart of the game.

In weather like that, the beer in the stands can freeze before it’s consumed. In weather like that, your hands go numb, your chest tightens, and just breathing the air can cause a burning sensation. It’s just not weather designed for human beings.

And, yet, they will play football in this weather, because the NFL doesn’t cancel games that are too cold.

And crazier still, many of the people playing in today’s game will be out there in short sleeves, thin spandex pants, a jock strap, some pads, a t-shirt, a helmet, socks, shoes, and nothing else.

Why do NFL players refuse to wear sleeves, even when it’s dangerously cold out?

Three reasons: 1. Sleeves don’t make much of a difference in this weather. 2. They’re tough guys who want to intimidate people. 3. Sleeves give opponents something to grab on to.

Former Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has a great story up at Fox about he dealt with the cold weather.

Here’s his explanation of why players don’t wear sleeves:

One of the game-day rules for the Bears and Ravens — and I would imagine any mentally tough team — is that there are no long sleeves allowed under your jersey. That reinforces a mentally tough state of mind and it also is used as an intimidator to the opposing team, like a gorilla pounding on his chest in jungle saying “look at me I don’t need sleeves in the cold.”

Trust me players take note.

The offensive players didn’t have these pacts, and we would respect the guys that followed suit with the defence. We would often make fun of receivers, especially because they were the culprits that would usually wear sleeves in the cold. After that first touchdown catch we would give them a pass though.

He also says that when he was a younger player, he tried wearing a turtle neck. It made no difference: “I figured I would throw on a long-sleeve turtleneck and put on some long johns to get me through this one. Let’s just say it didn’t work and I never did that again.”

We’ve looked for other players talking about wearing (or not wearing) sleeves, and it largely seems to come down to being a tough guy. It’s basically peer pressure. You don’t want to be that guy out there who needs sleeves.

Green Bay rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari was asked why he wouldn’t wear sleeves. His answer: “It’s kind of like the norm. That’s the best way to describe it.” He’s thought about it from time to time, but always decided, “You don’t wear sleeves.”

In 2011, though, the head trainer for the Steelers disputed the tough-guy theory, saying, “Everyone thinks it’s a macho thing when the linemen don’t wear sleeves, but it’s not – if you’ve got sleeves, you’re giving the opponent something to grab, so they just stick with the skin cream.”

Green Back running back Eddie Lacy told ESPN, “I just feel like if I had sleeves, I might fumble or something like that … I’m just staying with no sleeves. I’m comfortable that way.”

Regardless of the reason, these guys get cold. So they have their own ways of dealing with the extreme weather. They create blends of products they rub on their skin. Here’s Ayanbadejo again:

What allowed me to wear so little in cold games was a cocktail Brian Urlacher and Muhsin Muhammad revealed to me. There is a cream called Warm Skin that we would mix with Vaseline and Tiger Balm.

We would mix all these topicals together and rub them into our arms, legs, back … pretty much over our entire body. Make sure you put your jock on before you do this or you will get extremely uncomfortably hot in some of the wrong places.

Some players rub cayenne pepper on their bodies, then put a warming cream over top of that.

They also deal with cold in a more natural way: Running around. Football is an active sport, and the more guys are running around, sweating, staying active, the less they notice the cold.

If that fails, if say, they’re not in the game all that much, there’s other ways to stay warm: Winter hats, heaters on the sidelines, soup, hot cocoa, and big furry parkas. All of those things work best, though, after you’ve been running around for a bit.

But, let’s just say you’re not an insane person. You’re not scared to wear sleeves. What happens to you? You’ll probably get crap from some teammates. But at least you won’t freeze to death.

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