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What do Football Players Wear to Protect Their Balls?

At the high school level and lower, it’s a requirement in most areas for male football players to wear a plastic athletic cup to protect their most sensitive area. The cup can fit into a special pair of underwear or a girdle but can be cumbersome and decrease a player’s physical performance. Because of this, professional football players won’t wear a hard cup, choosing a more flexible type of protection that isn’t as strong but won’t impede their movement or chafe against their thighs.

I only played football through high school and never took the field without a hard plastic cup on. I was incredibly thankful my freshman year when I took a hard hit below the belt. It still hurt quite a bit, but I’m sure the alternative would have been catastrophic if I wasn’t wearing one.

If the consequences are so dire, why have professional football players chosen not to wear hard plastic cups? We’ll explain why and the alternatives that they’ve decided to use instead in the article below.

Key Takeaways

  • At the high school level and lower, all male football players should wear a hard plastic cup for protection
  • Professional football players would rather use a more flexible type of athletic cup that doesn’t provide as much protection but also doesn’t hinder their movement.
  • In addition to protecting against the terrible pain involved in getting hit in this area, an athletic cup also can prevent hernias, sprains, and testicular torsion.

Should Young Players Wear a Hard Cup?

At the lower levels, wearing an athletic cup is either strongly encouraged or required. [1]

Made of hard plastic and designed to fit into a special type of underwear or girdle, an athletic cup distributes any hard impact away from this sensitive male area to the more cushioned and protected area around the groin. While this is still plenty uncomfortable, it’s a lot better than the alternative.

In addition to protecting against the terrible pain associated with getting hit in this area, a cup can protect against a wide range of long-term injuries that can persist long after a young man’s football career has come to an end. Athletic cups help prevent several injuries including

  • Groin strains and sprains
  • Inguinal hernias
  • Sports hernias
  • Testicular torsion [2]

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.


Why Don’t Professional Football Players Wear Cups?

So why don’t professional football players wear a cup? At the highest levels, players are generally more concerned with maximizing their performance on the field and less about protection. While reliable, athletic cups can also be cumbersome and uncomfortable. A player wearing a cup won’t be able to run as fast or accelerate as quickly. This along with the massive leg muscles of most professional football players increases the discomfort and can promote chafing and other unsavory sensations.

Because of this, no professional football players have chosen to wear a cup. And it’s not like wearing a cup makes you impervious to any hard impact below the belt. 

“It’s supposed to be centered,” explained former quarterback Eli Manning. “So if it moves to the side and you’re stuck, it presses against you.” [3]

Say no more Eli!

But Don’t You Want Some Protection?

Indeed you do! Most professional football players and many collegiate players will use a less intrusive piece of padding to protect the male reproductive system. This is usually something like a “soft cup,” a piece of extra padding that can compress and isn’t as intrusive, but can still minimize damage to the area if it gets hit. [4]

The “comfy cup” is made of a softer, more flexible material. It doesn’t provide as much protection but is more comfortable to wear without hindering a player’s performance.


While many high-level players chose to go without a hard plastic cup, that doesn’t mean that youth and high school players should. That added discomfort and a slight decrease in performance aren’t worth the risk of a hard hit and a long-lasting injury that can hamper your life for years to come. If your son is feeling reluctant to wear one, encourage them to be patient and keep trying it, within a few practices most will forget they’re even wearing it. 


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