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Anatomy of a Non-Story: A One-Shell Rule Tale

There’s a truism in sports that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. Similarly, it turns out that in journalism, sometimes the best stories are the ones you don’t write, and the best social media moves are the tweets you don’t retweet.

Case in point: Last Thursday morning I was on the receiving end of a tweet from one of my followers, Michael Parthum. Here:

Well, that certainly sounded intriguing. I asked Michael when this was supposedly going to happen. His response:

The link in Michael’s second tweet goes to this podcast, which is conducted by two longtime Buffalo sports media guys named Paul Peck and Kevin Sylvester. I went to the 11-minute mark, as Michael had indicated, and heard Peck and Sylvester talking about the Bills’ Thursday-night uniforms. Then Peck said this:

Here’s another little interesting uniform tidbit. As we’ve seen in college football, every team has almost two, three, four different helmets that they wear. But the NFL has never done that, and it’s always been because of safety reasons. They felt that players got comfortable in their helmets and that you were exposing them to maybe more risk of concussions if you made them change helmets.

But I talked to someone who’s in the equipment business, and they said multiple helmets are coming to the NFL. What they’ll do is just swap out the padding inside the helmet and change the shell. Because right now what happens [for throwbacks or Thursday nights] is the Bills use the same helmets, but they’ll change the decal or the facemask. I think next year you’re gonna see NFL teams with multiple different helmets.

The discussion went on a little beyond that, but that was the gist of it. If it was true, it meant the one-shell rule’s days were numbered.

I’m not all that familiar with Paul Peck’s work, but I know he’s been covering sports for more than 20 years and seems like a reputable guy. But his sourcing on the helmet claim — “someone who’s in the equipment business” — made me uneasy. So I didn’t retweet Michael’s tweets. Instead, I got in touch with Peck so I could learn more.

I spoke with Peck on the phone that afternoon. Nice guy. First and foremost, I reassured him that I wasn’t looking to steal his story (it was his scoop, after all) but just wanted to know more about it. He said he didn’t mind if I pursued it. In fact, he was sort of amused that I was so interested in such a brief passage from his podcast.

Peck then made it clear that what he’d been told by his source in the equipment biz was basically a tangential comment — a “throwaway line,” he called it. When I asked if his source had specifically indicated that the one-shell rule will be scrapped next year, he said no, nothing that definitive. In other words, he was a lot less declarative on the phone with me than he’d been on his podcast.

I asked him who his source was. He told me, but off the record, and under the condition that I not contact the source (he doesn’t want to get the source in trouble). That was fine with me. I figured that if the story was accurate, it wouldn’t be that hard to corroborate. I thanked Peck and got to work.

My first call was to the NFL, where a spokesman sounded surprised by my inquiry. “I haven’t heard anything about that,” he said. “But let me look into it and get back to you.”

While he was doing that, I contacted two NFL equipment managers, along with people I know at Riddell and Schutt — the two biggest helmet manufacturers. All of them said they hadn’t heard anything about this. (Some of them said, “If you find out more, be sure to let me know!”)

The next morning, I heard back from the NFL spokesman, who told me that no changes are planned for the one-shell rule.

Now, is it possible that the NFL guy was bullshitting me? And is it also possible that the equipment managers and helmet manufacturers I contacted are just out of the loop? Sure, anything’s possible — but I don’t think so. I think this is a non-story.

I want to make it clear that I don’t think Paul Peck was bullshitting on his podcast, and I don’t think his source was bullshitting with him. But miscommunications and misunderstandings sometimes happen, and I think that’s likely what happened here.

Why am I telling you all this? To show you (and remind myself) that it’s important to maintain a healthy skepticism about unverified claims. If I had retweeted Michael’s initial tweets and then written about it here on the blog the next day (“People, according to this podcast, it sounds like the one-shell rule is coming to an end…”), that would have caused quite a stir — and it would have been unwarranted.

Being skeptical is no fun. It’s a lot more exciting to treat every claim, whether verified or not, as breaking news. But in most cases, including this one, it pays to check things out first.

• • • • •

ESPN reminders: In case you missed it yesterday, my annual Uni Watch College Hoops Season Preview is now available, and I’ve also done a short ESPN piece on notable NBA jersey rips/tears/etc. in the pre-Nike era.

Speaking of the College Hoops Preview: Although I sent emails to all 351 Division I schools, asking them to apprise me of any changes, a few new uniforms inevitably slipped through the cracks, plus a lot of schools didn’t respond to my inquiries until yesterday, when the Preview had already been published. (I think they basically procrastinated and then scrambled to respond once they saw that the piece had been posted.) So here are some updates:

My thanks to everyone who brought these to my attention.

• • • • •

The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball NewsThe Sacramento River Cats unveiled new alternate caps yesterday, based on the city’s iconic Tower Bridge. … The LAPD Police Chief wore an Astros tie yesterday, per his World Series bet with Houston’s Police Chief (from Ignacio). … The Nationals’ racing presidents paid a surprise visit (WaPo link) to an elementary school where kids had dressed up as the racing presidents for Halloween (from Tommy Turner). … Look at all those pinwheel caps in the crowd. That’s a 1970 Winnipeg Whips game. They were an Expos farm team (from Daren Landers).

NFL NewsThe Cowboys’ pants appeared to show a range of colors on Sunday. … The Seahawks and Cardinals will be going snot green vs. BFBS for this week’s Thursday Night Color Rash (from Phil). …  Ferdinand Cesarano noticed former Jets coach Charlie Winner wearing a cap with a logo that appears to be inspired by the Mets/Giants insignia. That still is from this video. … The 1976 Pro Bowl was played in Seattle, not in Hawaii. It was also the next-to-last Pro Bowl with players wearing AFC and NFC helmets instead of their team helmets. You can see footage here (from Bill Kellick).

College Football NewsNorth Carolina will go  white/white/navy this weekend at Pitt (from James Gilbert). … Colorado State was breaking in their new Colorado flag alternates during practice yesterday. They’ll wear them Saturday against Boise State (from  Benjamin Brune). … Looks like North Texas will wear green chrome helmets this weekend (from Robert Botts).

Hockey News: A Tampa-area restaurant is selling a special hot sauce for the Lightning’s 25th anniversary (from @spomedome). … The Penguins wore purple during warmups for Hockey Fights Cancer Night (from Jerry). … Camouflage jerseys this weekend for the San Diego Gulls (from Drew McClintock).

NBA News: Two of the NBA’s biggest stars, Houston’s James Harden and Golden State’s Steph Curry, have been hiding the Nike logo on their socks. Both players have endorsement deals with other companies (from Phil). … The Celtics will wear green jerseys at home tonight against the Lakers (from @Brevity_Wit). … Texas A&M has unveiled their military-themed uniforms for Friday’s Armed Forces Classic Game (from Phil).

Soccer NewsEngland will wear their road kits at home on Friday against Germany. The Brits reportedly haven’t worn their blue jerseys as much as Nike would like (from Paul Kennedy). … Folks aren’t to happy with Ghana’s new kits for the 2018 World Cup (from Phil). … VfB Stuttgart of the Bundesliga have a new BFBS jersey (from Ed Zelaski). … These are reportedly the Philadelphia Union’s home kits for the 2018 season. Here’s a rendering of the road kit (from @BadHombre302).

Grab BagPro tennis players Roger Federer and Andy Murray played an exhibition match in Scotland yesterday — in kilts! (From Blake Fox.) … Nike has reportedly saved billions by opening a shell corporation in Bermuda to handle licensing deals (from James Gilbert). … During the Rugby League World Cup the other day, staff members for the Tongan National Team wore traditional ta’ovala legwear under track suits (from Mark Campbell). … RIP Frank Liberto, the man behind modern ballpark nachos (WaPo link). He died yesterday — one day before National Nacho Day (from Tommy Turner).

• • • • •

I’m going to Manhattan to run some errands this morning. Back in the early afternoon. Play nice while I’m away, yes? Yes.

Comments (48)

    “Pro tennis players Roger Federer and Andy Murray played an exhibition match in Scotland yesterday — in kilts!”

    It looks like only Federer wore a kilt, and only briefly. (Murray did put on a tam late.) And, sadly, no blancmanges seem to have been involved.

    Please don’t say Brits to describe the England team – Scottish and Welsh fans would be most displeased!

    If you’re going to wear an Astros tie, even in a bet, do it with the current color scheme. Not only is the red and black meh, it’s hasn’t even been gone long enough to be considered a true throwback.

    My first fear when I read the itwm wa sthat he was going to wear it with his uniform!! Thank God he didn’t.

    Not only is the tie outdated, it is about as tame a sports tie as you could find.

    I would expect a bet loser to have to wear something more like this:

    If that’s the color of your snot, you have a major sinus infection. Possibly given to you from an alien species.
    “Neon green” or “radioactive green” would be a more accurate description.

    The links to the conferences on the uni watch college basketball preview article doesn’t work.

    “Being skeptical is no fun.”

    Actually, reading a regular crappy non-journalistic blog is no fun.

    Keep up the good work.

    If the NFL ever does lift the one shell rule, I wonder how many BHFBHS (black helmet for black helmet’s sake) we might see.

    I like the one helmet rule for this very reason. I’m old fashioned in that I think teams should have home color jersey, away white jersey, and that’s that. There is something to be said for distinguishable identities. You see a team in yellow helmets, green jerseys, and yellow pants, you know its the Packers. You can’t even tell who many of the teams are in college football now with the one-off BFBS and other crazy costumes.

    I’m with Greg – the helmet is the most important visual element of a team’s uniform, and it’s good to at least have that constant in today’s world of alternate jerseys and multiple pants.

    If they do allow alternate helmet shells, let’s hope they are only used for throwbacks.

    Exactly the immediately previous rule, and also why third jerseys that are not throwbacks are supposed to be a simple color swap using official team colors within an existing design. I’d second that.

    That Tampa restaurant really missed the opportunity to name that sauce “Lightning in a Bottle”!

    Nick Young, who has an Adidas contract, is also rolling his socks to hide the Swoosh. At the other end of the spectrum is Dennis Schroder, a Nike athlete, who opts to wear three pairs of socks, with three logos prominently displayed.

    Two things in the soccer section of the ticket. First Ghana did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup so those are not their World Cup Kits just their 2018 kits. Second I think the Union kits are just fan created designs and not real leaks. My reasoning being that so far MLS teams are on a two year schedule with all their kits. Meaning that each team only gets one new kit each year either their primary or their secondary. Both of those kits would be new designs for the team and there are a ton of people who post soccer kits they have designed online, probably more than any other sport.

    Pat’s right as far as I’ve heard. MLS teams don’t get both home and away jerseys in the same year, and the renderings aren’t mislabelled either as MLS teams are dropping their alternates next year too.

    Gotta say, if I were Ghanaian, I’d be pissed about those brutal, fast-food crew member uni shirts too! Those are Maryland Terps- level ugly.

    The Winnipeg Whips photo is interesting to a Winnipeger.

    The Whips are before my time but until now I’d thought the baseball part of Winnipeg Stadium was at the north end, where the Goldeyes later played.

    I had no idea the Whips played in what appears to be a separate stadium at the south end where the clubhouse later was.

    All of that is gone now of course. The stadium and the arena.

    Me too.

    I wore it to a Goldeyes game this summer, there were a decent number of Whips hats at the game.

    Another Winnipegger here. I have the home Whips jersey from Ebbets Field. They also have the road jersey and a beautiful original road Goldeyes jersey from the 50s. Very tempting.

    I only went to one Whips game. As I recall, it was “Pony Night” where they gave away several prizes to fans with the grand prize being…well, you probably figured it out. A friend of mine won a bike that night. The game was played the same night as the 1971 MLB All-Star Game in Detroit. The one where Reggie hit the light tower in right field.

    Not sure if this has been posted yet, but here is a fun video compilation of players accidentally wearing the wrong uniform parts: link

    At least when I played HS football in the ’80s, helmet padding was easy to swap out. In fact I still have my helmet (although it now has Jets colors and decals), and the padding is still easy to swap out. Which is why the “one-helmet” rule never made sense to me.

    The issue, as far as I understand it, is with players who aren’t wearing modern, current-production helmets, for whom they can no longer get new replacement shells, but their helmets are grandfathered in. The teams and the league don’t want to be liable for injuries suffered by these players due to forcing them to change into newer helmet models (which aren’t compatible with their old helmets’ padding) for a single game.

    That’s interesting. So basically it is unsafe to force a player to wear a newer model helmet than the one they usually wear, which is only acceptable to wear because it is grandfathered it?

    Thanks Paul. This is an aspect I really didn’t think of, regarding old models that are no longer made, and thus they cannot bring in a new shell color. And since the new helmets by definition would be as safe, and supposedly safer than the no longer in production models, that the NFL might still fear legal reprisal from a player who gets hurt wearing a newer model helmet he was forced to wear.
    I had a discussion about helmets with a friend of mine who coaches high school. I noted how they are leaving themselves open to lawsuits since they get maybe 5 or 6 new helmets per year, which are marketed as safer than the older models. Thus, a student wearing an old model helmet gets a concussion, and the parent is left wondering why their child wasn’t one of the 5 or 6 six given the top of the line safety gear that might have prevented the injury. Meanwhile the NFL is worried about getting sued if they force players to switch to a newer, safer model. I’m guessing there is some sort of “use the older model at your own risk policy” which the NFL feels is legally less risky for them than forcing all players to wear the newest, safest models.

    When I played high school football, I’d fold up my helmet and stick it in my back pocket after practice.

    Looks like adidas’s strategy is to save money for the upcoming legal issues over bribing college coaches for the services of prized high school ballers. Because their design ethic this year seems to be making equipment meant for game day look like practice uniforms as much as possible.

    The extreme over abundance of alternate uniforms in college football has left me feeling jaded over the entire process. I generally dislike every single on of them. The Colorado State state flag uniforms are beautiful and should stay. I would be very nice to see them rendered in CSU’s green and gold, which is a great color scheme.

    I never really understood the problem with the one-shell rule. Why not just paint the helmets? Would still be the same helmets with the same padding and all.

    What if they could make a shell overlay that fits over the existing hemet? it would have all the proper fittings for the facemarks and snaps for the chinstraps etc. It could be vacuum-formed plastic shells that would just slide over the helmet- this way the players could keep their helmets and the shell overlays could be removed for the following game. Don’t know if its possible but its worth a try…

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