Monday, December 8, 2014

Apple #692: How Do Football Players Go to the Bathroom?

OK, let me say right up front: I thought this would be a pretty innocuous question.  I was watching a Packers game last week and for some reason, it occurred to me to wonder, where do they go to the bathroom?  I've never seen any evidence of it, and it's not something anybody talks about so it had never occurred to me to think about before.  I thought they might have Porta-Johns on the sidelines, which the cameras never showed because nobody wants to see that.  Or maybe those professional teams had something fancy that was small and discreet.

But it turns out, the answer is rather disgusting.

They go on the sidelines.  Literally.

The sidelines in the NFL. A.k.a. the team bathroom?
(Photo by Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Let's put this in perspective.
  • Players arrive at the stadium several hours before kick-off.  For players who are not regular starters, they find out whether or not they're playing by whether or not their uniform is all laid out in front of their locker.  Then their start their pre-game rituals.
  • Some players read the Bible or pray, some listen to music, some get injections that help them play in spite of some compromised muscle or joint, some eat certain things (Brian Urlacher always eats two chocolate chip cookies--only two and exactly two), Jermichael Finley gets a pedicure, John Henderson of Jacksonville has someone slap him in the face hard several times, some players cover all their exposed skin in Vaseline to make themselves more slick and harder to tackle.
  • They all will spend some quality time in the bathroom.  They want to clear out the pipes as much as possible before going on the field, and they do their best to make that happen.  Some players take Pepto-Bismol to aid that effort, others drink Red Bull, and you can imagine other remedies they might use to keep the plumbing from becoming a problem during the game.
  • Then they get their pads on and get dressed.  The jerseys and pants are as skin-tight as possible so there's no loose clothing for anyone to drag and use to pull you down.  Some guys wear their jerseys so tight, they even have some embarrassing moments when they have trouble pulling them on.
  • They also get taped up.  Ankles get taped, knees get taped, muscles get taped with kinesio tape, fingers, hands, wrists get taped.  Gloves go on and oftentimes the gloves are taped on over the wrists.
  • Then a couple hours before kick-off, the players go out on the field.  They're out there warming up, stretching, getting used to the feel of the field.  Some go out and do their warm-ups before getting dressed. They'll go in, get dressed, and come back out again to do some more but lesser impact stretching. 

Pre-game warm-up. Pads & uniform on, ankles taped, gloves on. Everything but the helmet.
(Photo from USF Health)

  • Players also drink water or Gatorade to stay hydrated.  Staying hydrated is really necessary to stave off injuries and to keep muscles from cramping and forcing you to leave the game.
  • Then everybody troops back into the locker room about 30 minutes before kick-off for the coach's last instructions, the inspirational speech, and any last-minute individual or team prayers.
  • Then they go back out on the field for the player introductions, and then the two-minute warning sounds.  For many players, that's when the nerves hit.  
  • As soon as you get nervous, what do you have to do?  You have to go to the bathroom.
  • But what are you going to do?  Your gloves are on, maybe even taped onto your hands.  You've got on the skin-tight clothes that were a royal pain to pull on even with un-gloved hands.  The actual bathroom can be as far as a quarter mile away.  But the game is about to start, and you're bouncing up and down with the jitters so bad, you have got to go.

Players' Solutions

  • Different players address this problem in different ways.  Depends on the player, depends on the circumstances.
  • I should point out that players get the urge not just before kick-off, but at any one of many nervous moments throughout the game.  If he's a defensive player and the offense has been on the field for a while, and he knows he'll have to run out there again in a minute or two, the urge might come upon him then.  If he's a kicker and he knows he'll have to kick a field goal, but first the other team takes a time out, the nerves might kick in then.
  • In fact, a kicker was caught on camera doing what most of the players do to solve the problem -- urinating right there on the sideline while another person or persons holds up a towel beside him to shield his activity from view.

Nick Novak of the San Diego Chargers, caught on camera relieving himself during a game in 2011.
(Photo from Larry Brown Sports)

  • That seems to be the most common solution, to use the sideline as the restroom.  It seems they often choose to do this near the water cart.  Perhaps because the cart provides a relatively large shield that will not amble off as various players standing around the sideline might?  I don't know if that's the reason; I'm only guessing.  But it does seem a bit unsanitary.

St. Louis Rams player, urinating on the sideline during a game against the Packers in 2011.
(Photo from WKQS Sunny FM)

  • Another option that is not as popular but still fairly common is for players to go right in their pants.  Some recommend stuffing a towel into the pants first, then throwing the "sacrificial towel" away afterwards.
  • Other players do not even use a towel. Especially if it's late in the game, and they're already drenched in sweat, they will let the liquids go right in their pants.  They say that because of all the sweat no one can tell the difference, including themselves.
  • A few players will use a receptacle like an empty water bottle.  But apparently, this is not the most common technique.
  • Up to now, I have been talking about the liquid kind of elimination.  But as you no doubt suspect by this point, sometimes old #2 comes knocking on the back door, despite all a player's best efforts in the locker room beforehand.
  • What is a taped up, jerseyed up, keyed up player to do?  
  • Some players who know they have enough time will run all the way to the locker room.  But others simply cannot do that.  They can't take the risk of not being available if they're called upon to play.  Nature's call has to take a back seat to the coach's call.
  • Some players use the "sacrificial towel" in this situation too.  The towel goes in the pants, receives the donation, is used to clean up the aftereffects, and is thrown away.
  • In some cases, players don't have the luxury of time to make a choice.  Sometimes the hits in football are so forceful, the nervous system is temporarily overridden and the rear gates open without your say-so, and your pants become the receiver.
  • What do you and the other players do afterward?  Deal with it and keep playing.   
  • Some quarterbacks have found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to take the snap from a center who has had an accident in his pants.  The quarterback might opt to go to the shotgun, but for Matt Hasselbeck who found himself in just such a situation in a game in Seattle, the crowd noise was so loud, shotgun was not an option.  So he had to get right up close & friendly with that center's soiled trousers and get on with the game.
  • You probably think this is about as disgusting as I do.  I mean, I get that these guys are athletes, so they've seen pretty much every kind of impressive and also ugly thing the body can do.  So they're probably anesthetized to it.  But for some of the players, they are not only not grossed out, they even seem to be a bit proud of their outside-the-bathroom bathroom exploits.  I should re-emphasize that's the case for only some players.
  • Channing Crowder of the Dolphins said he urinated in his pants all the time.  Most often while in the huddle.  But every game.  For six years.  He seemed to be boasting about this. 

Channing Crowder.  Is he happy, or is that just urine in his pants?
(Photo from Dunk360)

  • For another player, there is no question he was boasting of his extra-bathroom pursuits.  Larry Izzo of the New England Patriots apparently "has issues" and spends a lot of his time in the bathroom.  He will drink "like, eight Red Bulls" and take "supplements" to try to deal with the #2 situation.  But during one game his methods, um, backfired, and he had to go.  So he somehow went on the sideline, during the game, and no one noticed.  Coach Bill Belichick heard about this and gave him the game ball.  According to Wes Welker, Izzo "takes ultimate pride in this whole deal. Of all the special teams tackles and Pro Bowls he's made, I guarantee you that game ball is probably a more prized item for him than his Super Bowl rings."

Larry Izzo, proud of his secretive behind-the-scenes skills.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • You might also think, as I do, why doesn't somebody get these guys a Porta-John?  Well, somebody did give one to the Kansas City Chiefs.  But what did they do with it?  The coach used it in a passing drill. 
  • Standing about 10 feet away, he told a receiver to get in the john and shut the door.  Then he'd give another coach a sign, and that coach would fling open the door and coach #1 would quick fling the ball at the player and he'd have to catch it.  "It's a good concentration drill, I think, for hands, eyes and getting the ball and getting your hands up quick," he said.
  • Clearly for pro football players, the game trumps everything, including their most pressing bodily functions.
  • Still.  I wish they would get Porta-Johns and use them as intended.  Or maybe at least get those guys a bunch of chamber pots.  They could even put the team logos on them.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

P.S. It's not just in the pros that this happens. Nor is it just in football.

Ryan Riddle, Bleacher Report, What NFL Pros Do in the Hours Just Before a Game, August 8, 2012
Stephen White, Bleacher Report, A Former NFL Player's Perspective on the Game Day Fans Don't See, September 8, 2012
Anthony L. Gargano, Deadspin, Jeff Garcia Pisses in Hand Towels, and the Art of Breaking Thumbs in the Loose-Ball Pile, October 19, 2010
Larry Brown Sports, Chargers Kicker Nick Novak Takes a Pee on the Sidelines, November 27, 2011
WKQSFM, How Do NFL Football Players Go to the Bathroom on the Field? November 4, 2011
ESPN Page 2, Pee is only a wee bit gross
USA Today, Former Dolphins linebacker says he wet himself during every game, November 21, 2013
Doug Farrar, Yahoo! Sports, Wes Welker: Larry Izzo once got a game ball for pooping on the sideline, May 3, 2012
Associated Press, Chiefs turn to a Porta-Potty to help curb dropped passes, August 12, 2010

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