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NFL's uniform inspectors


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I came across this interesting article today about NFL and their strictly enforced uniform policy. I thought it fit nicely into one of the ongoing discussions we have here on the board. Sorry for the length but its a good read.

The NFL's Fashion Cop

By Vince Grzegorek, Cleveland Scene

Chad Ochocinco strode onto the field at Canton's Fawcett Stadium for this year's Hall of Fame Game wearing orange cleats. That was a no-no; the Bengals were slated to wear black shoes for the contest.

While it was one of the renegade wide receiver's tamer uniform shenanigans ? more so than, say, the time he plastered a temporary "Ochocinco" nameplate on his uniform during his Chad Johnson days ? it was a violation of the National Football League's dress code nonetheless. And it was Felix Wright's job to make it go away.

For 10 home dates a year, the 51-year-old former safety for the Browns serves as one of the NFL's 32 official uniform inspectors, emissaries employed at each stadium to maintain the sartorial sanity.

Wright has been the inspector at Browns games since 2001, but he also works the annual Hall of Fame Game, a preseason contest that marks the unofficial start of each season. He wandered over to talk to Ochocinco prior to kickoff last month and eventually managed to get him league approval for wearing the orange shoes just this one time. After all, the case to the league office went: He's only playing one series tonight.

Then Ochocinco emerged from the locker room just before kickoff with gold cleats on.

"They said I could wear these!" he insisted to Wright.

"No, you have you take those off. You were approved for the orange," Wright told him. "I was right there with you."

Wright's day begins two hours before kickoff, when he scrutinizes each team's pregame activities. "It's usually on the field before I can see it, but I have to police it," he says. "They know who I am. They know who all 32 [inspectors] are. Most guys will come over and ask 'Am I OK? Am I fine?'"

Those who aren't ? untucked jerseys, socks exposed kneecaps, unauthorized shoes, etc. ? are logged on a report by Wright. One copy of it goes to the NFL; another goes to a designated member on each team ? usually an equipment or strength coach, who then goes over the list in the locker room before kickoff, reminding each player what Wright griped about.

If they emerge from the tunnel with all infractions corrected, Wright simply checks off their name. If not, the league seeks input from the inspector as to whether a fine is in order; most times, if the problem is remedied before the first whistle, the player escapes monetary punishment ? the very threat of which is usually enough to persuade them to adjust the offending garments.

Wright then logs another report throughout the game, for which the stakes are considerably higher. During the preseason ? when fans mostly aren't following the action on the field anyway ? fines start at $5,000. The price goes up for the regular season, with exact dollar amounts depending on the severity and frequency.

"Most guys don't like getting fined," Wright says. "All it usually takes is one hit. What I tell guys is, don't look at me as the bad guy. I'm keeping money in your pocket. Ultimately I'm the guy that's going to help you not get fined."

Take Josh Cribbs, who for a couple of games last year took to wearing socks on his arm as though he were auditioning for an '80s rock band. Wright popped him with a write-up, the NFL levied a fine, and the offending hosiery disappeared.

Of course, some jocks just don't care. Feisty former Browns Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow share that distinction.

"Braylon and Kellen would come out and just say, 'I'll take the hit,'" Wright says. "Braylon wouldn't wear any socks. He'd have footies on, he would wear his shirt under his pads. I used to tell him, if you're going to give money away, give it to your mom. Don't give it back. Why would you want to give up $10,000 just because you don't have socks on?

"The guys up top are watching too," Wright adds. "It's not just me."

He isn't kidding. Everything ? from jerseys being properly tucked in to height of socks to brand of shoes to the color of the chinstrap ? is addressed under the league's rules and regulations. While Wright says he is not reprimanded or judged based on his performance, if he misses something, the NFL is bound to catch it. Whether an oversight leads to a later fine or an immediate phone call depends on the situation. If it's Monday Night Football, for instance, expect a call.

"It's easy to make fun of them ? call them the fashion police or whatever, but the NFL has maintained a better look in terms of consistency in uniform than, say, Major League Baseball," says Paul Lukas, who covers the uniform beat (yes, there is such a thing) for espn.com and his blog, uniwatchblog.com.

"You can call it whatever you want. It comes from the same place as the control-freak aspects of the NFL, the corporate controls, but it's led to a better-looking product compared to some other leagues. You have to believe if the players had their way, they would wear anything."

But it's about more than just what the players are wearing; it's about brand management.

The NFL is uncannily adept at capitalizing on its popularity through sponsorship deals, contracts which allow companies like Reebok and Gatorade and Motorola to become the official and sole providers of services and have their logo splashed around the stadium. It's a lucrative business, one the NFL goes to great lengths to protect. Reebok's deal, for instance, paid $250 million over ten years.

That kind of coin buys you the efforts of henchmen to keep Nike logos off the field.

It was one of the first lessons Wright learned from his predecessors in the job, former Browns Gary Jeter and Eddie Johnson. "'You're here to protect the sponsorships of the NFL,' they'd say to me."

That means no Adidas, no Nike, no Powerade, no Lucent. And no Coke or Pepsi, products seemingly incongruous with high-level athletic pursuits, but which Wright often finds on the field anyway.

"It's wild that the stuff gets down there, but it gets down there," he says.

Wright's domain extends into the locker room too, where he sticks around two hours following the final whistle to monitor coaches and players on both teams appearing on camera during interviews. Same rules: No logos of competing companies. If it's not a sponsor, you're not wearing it, you're not holding it.

But if the players seem woefully uneducated when it comes to the rules, it might be because they don't receive much internal guidance. The coaches, Wright says, are often worse than the players when it comes to blowing off league policy.

As evidence, he recounts a recent episode of the HBO reality series Hard Knocks, which this year is chronicling the New York Jets. "I want to talk to you about the uniform rules," head coach Rex Ryan informs his team. "Wear your uniform."

"Then he broke the meeting," Wright says with a laugh. "He doesn't care."

He might not care now, but some of the Jets may, including Braylon Edwards, when New York visits Cleveland to play the Browns on November 14.

Wright will be there waiting, undoubtedly looking at Edwards' socks.

From: http://news.yahoo.com/s/clevlndmsc/clevlndmsc_ts3570

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I remember that time I was at Raymond James Stadium, and they have a huge poster/board right when you walk into the locker room, with diagrams of all the little uniform things you need to check before going out on the field.

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Yeah, I don't get this. I don't know what they are really cracking down on. I saw twice last year where a player played the entire first half with knee-high white crew socks on and was apparently forced to wear team socks at halftime. How did they get through an entire half with plain white socks on? I have talked about the players wearing their sock color too high or too low, and some players even wear solid color socks or just colored leggins underneath. They do a job, but not a thorough one.

As for tools like Edwards and Winslow, if the money is no object they the NFL needs to increase the fine exponentially everytime it happens until the money does concern them. I have a feeling they would comply once the NFL got up to taking their entire game check away. They could also issue a personal foul or ban a player from taking the field for eggregious things, such as Taylor's socks above.

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Wow, Felix Wright should thank Ochocinco for job security...he could be assigned just to that one player and still have enough work.

Chinstraps they say...Ochocinco needs to wear a chinstrap with a fake billy-goat beard protruding from it.

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Would anyone take the field if someone from this board was the "uniform cop?" :) In all seriousness, I see people complain that "it's just socks or shoes" or whatever, but the fact of the matter is, they are paid (very well) to do their job which requires a UNIFORM. Cops wear uniforms. Soldiers wear uniforms. Do you ever see a cop on duty in a sleeveless cop jersey because he thinks it "looks tight?" No. They should just wear what they are supposed to wear. The funny thing is they get fines of like $1000 which I've said before is almost like when work allows you to pay a few bucks for jean day Friday or whatever.

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Yeah, I don't get this. I don't know what they are really cracking down on. I saw twice last year where a player played the entire first half with knee-high white crew socks on and was apparently forced to wear team socks at halftime. How did they get through an entire half with plain white socks on? I have talked about the players wearing their sock color too high or too low, and some players even wear solid color socks or just colored leggins underneath. They do a job, but not a thorough one.

Do you know if those players weren't fined? Once the game starts, I'd think that the uniform inspector doesn't have the authority to tackle a player and pull him off the field if he chooses to neglect the warnings and plays in illegal socks. It sounds like these guys take notes during pregame and tell the coaches, but they have no way of actually forcing the players to comply.

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From the article and his interaction with Ochocinco about the gold shoes, I got the impression that guys pretty much had to comply with his pregame demands. Otherwise why would Chad not just wear the gold shoes and take the fine? He laughs off fines.

As for the white socks, Santonio Holmes did that for the first half of the Sunday night game against the Ravens and a Buccaneer wore them for the first half in their throwback game. Both players came out at halftime with regulation socks on. Maybe the players wore normal socks and changed out of them just before kickoff? Who knows. My point still stands. If the players are going to scoff at the rules and take the fine, the fines need to increase exponentially every time after the first. No matter how much of a jackass the players are, they are probably going to give in before they get to the point of playing for free. Do you think even Winslow Jr. will be enough of an :censored: to "keep it real" with his socks if it was costing him $200,000 per game?

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