While younger football players are often required to wear cups by either their athletic program, coach, or parents, no professional NFL players wear one. The reason is they can be uncomfortable and can cause chafing by rubbing against the thighs. This added hindrance also decreases sprint speed and decreases your agility. Most professional players forego the extra protection for improved performance.
Having only played football through high school, I never took the field without a cup on. It was uncomfortable at times, but I was thankful I was wearing one when I was popped below the belt by someone’s helmet my freshman year.
In this article, we’ll describe in politically correct detail how an athletic cup works and highlight why amateur players should always wear one. There are some justifications for not wearing a cup at the highest level, and as Eli Manning points out, sometimes a cup can shift and make a hit to the groin even more problematic.
- Many NFL players don’t wear cups as they’re cumbersome and many athletes claim that it slows them down and makes them less agile.
- Athletic cups are worn by almost all younger male football players at the high school level and below.
- Cups can protect against a myriad of traumatic injuries including hernias and testicular torsion
What is a Cup?
An athletic cup is a rounded piece of protective equipment usually made of hard plastic. The cup is placed in a specially designed type of underwear with a stitched slit where the cup can be inserted and kept in place.
It’s commonly worn by baseball players and some football players and is used to protect the male reproductive organs. If a ball, knee, or other solid object impacts the cup, it disperses the force of the impact against the groin and inner thigh. While still unpleasant to be hit in this region, getting hit with a cup is much better than the alternative.
Why Most Professional Players Don’t Wear Them
Protecting this sensitive area of the male body seems like it should be a priority for most athletes. Some major league baseball players do wear cups depending on their position.
For instance, catchers almost always wear one along with some infielders, while NFL football players are adamantly against wearing a cup. [1, 2]
Granted, a football is a lot softer than a baseball, and the odds of taking a knee or something similar to that area is not as likely as a sport like basketball where players are jumping and leaping into each other as often.
The thing is cups can be cumbersome to wear and are often uncomfortable. To fully protect the area, the perimeter of the cup rests against the inner thigh where it can chafe and dig into the skin. This is particularly uncomfortable for football players that tend to have larger and more muscular legs than the average human. 
Along with chafing and general discomfort, many football players claim that wearing a cup decreases their sprint speed and ability to change directions. 
This makes wearing a cup a question of risk management. Do you take the extra protection, but sacrifice some speed and athleticism? If no one else is choosing to wear one, adding this extra protection is going to put you at a disadvantage.
Or, as former quarterback Eli Manning put it, “it’s supposed to be centered. So if it moves to the side and you’re struck, it presses against you.” 
Say no more Eli!
Should Younger Players Wear Cups?
Many college football players will wear some sort of protection for this sensitive area, either a hard cup or a softer foam version that’s more comfortable. 
At high school and lower levels, however, all male athletes should wear one. 
Performance isn’t as important at these recreational levels, and the added protection for younger players should always take precedence. An athletic cup does more than just prevent blinding pain through this sensitive region, it always protects against serious injuries and trauma to the male reproductive system. Athletic cups help prevent several injuries including
- Groin strains and sprains
- Inguinal hernias
- Sports hernias
- Testicular torsion 
Cups are uncomfortable and they take some getting used to. But don’t let your boys take the gridiron without one. That added protection is worth a little discomfort.
It can be an awkward conversation with young athletes about protecting this part of the body. But the added protection is more than worth it. It can be challenging to convince people to wear one, especially if professional football players don’t wear one. But after wearing one for a few practices many players can get used to them and will forget their wearing one after a while.