Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3, Item 7

As no doubt countless people who visit this website know, the last three sentences of the 2018 National Football League Rulebook Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3, Item 7 read as follows:

Kicking shoes must not be modified (including using a shoelace wrapped around toe and/or bottom of the shoe), and any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe. Punters and placekickers may omit the shoe from the kicking foot in preparation for and during kicking plays. Punters and placekickers may wear any combination of the tri-colored shoes provided that the colors are consistent with those selected by the team and with the policy listed above.

No doubt those same countless readers saw that I emphasized a phrase in there that just sticks in my craw every time I set out to read the 2018 National Football League Rulebook. “a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe” I don’t even like to give the punctuation, let alone dare capitalize the first letter of a phrase like that. It says, in minimally uncertain terms, that Football as a sport is to be played by the National Football League with feet in the arena conforming to a strict set of geometries.

Some say, it may have something to do with this fellow,


Tom Dempsey.

See, Tom Dempsey was a special kind of kicker. He is best known for a truly transcendental moment in sports history wherein he kicked a football 63 yards to put the New Orleans Saints up 2 over the Detroit Lions on November 8, 1970. This feat, just belting a football half way across the field through some small uprights, would not be matched until the Clinton administration nor topped (by “a single yard”) until the Obama administration. 

Well, it turns out that Tom Dempsey was we might call “special needs” with a certain kind of “special emphasis” in the words to mask the sting of “disability”. Tom Dempsey was born without toes (or fingers on one hand!). At the time of the field goal, the Later Stages of the Nixon Administration, this meant Tom Dempsey would wear whatever shoes were comfortable and available to him. At some point he settled on that snazzy little number seen in the photograph.

Some thought this conferred an unfair advantage. Seeking such that not one is gotten over on them, they wrote some changes specifically into the rulebook, starting in 1974, because of this guy. Some, like that quoted and emphasized above, stay with the game at least as late as the Later Stages of the Trump Administration.

A pretty tidy summary of the whole situation can be gleaned from the clip below. 

However, as a supporter of doing whatever you can with the body you got, it’s a shame – a shame – that some, out of fear or tired prejudice cannot simply leave possible what is possible. That choose to make a rule, one just as many like it, that say how the (male) body is to become spectacle…to the spectator footing the ESPN bills. That may not have been the best route by which to have this conversation (the question plaguing us even neonatally, “what are feet?” ), nor the most sensible (let alone sensitive) approach to have taken while there, but it’s a rule, in their rulebook, for their sport, so who am I to tell the good people of the National Football League how to conduct their business? Empires got rules and they got thousands of them.

So, indelibly stamped it is. The “normal kicking shoe” having been elsewhere defined. But here, perhaps just because I’m looking for it, perhaps just because I know where it comes from, perhaps just because I know where it can lead, I see that word “normal” and I can’t help but figure, there goes another.