As part of the continuing focus on player health and safety, NFL owners in May of 2012 overwhelmingly approved the proposal by the NFL Competition Committee to make thigh and knee pads mandatory beginning in 2013.

All players -- with the exception of punters and kickers -- will be wearing thigh and knee pads this season. This ensures an equality of competition.

"There's no downside, they have to add some sort of protection," says Falcons President/CEO and Chairman of the NFL Competition Committee RICH MC KAY. "In our football system -- from Pop Warner through middle school, high school and college football -- everyone wears them up to our game. Common sense tells you it has to be safer for protection against thigh injuries and knee bruises. If players have worn it at every level before reaching the NFL, from a safety standpoint, it is time to put it back in."

Players have worn thigh and knee pads through other levels of football, including the collegiate level. It was mandatory for NFL players from 1979-1994.

Oakland Raiders cornerback TRACY PORTER, who was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, has worn the thigh and knee pads for added protection since he entered the league.

"I believe in them, I've been wearing them since my rookie year," says Porter. "A lot of guys are frowning upon it because they like to not wear the thigh or knee pads. But much like wearing shoulder pads and a helmet, it's a rule in the league, and you have to do it."

Players at all levels of the game emulate what they see in the NFL and the league is sending a clear message that wearing the equipment is important and must be done.

"It is good for the game," says NFL Senior Vice President of Player Engagement TROY VINCENT, who was a five-time Pro Bowl selection during his 15-year NFL career. "The NFL should be setting the example. My children today play youth and high school football. It is the way it should be done. You are properly equipped. That is the only way they know, and then when it has gotten to our level, it has changed. I think it will be a natural progression for current players."

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Thigh and Knee Pads Mandatory in 2013