Why do NFL and college football players wear a towel when they play?
Towels are not necessarily the most glamorous of accessories to go with those snazzy NFL or college football uniforms, but they do serve a practical purpose.
The towels hanging from NFL players, usually hovering by their hip and sometimes near the crotch area don’t always enhance the look of their team uniforms. It is easy to deduce that they are there for a practical purpose and not an aesthetic one, although some teams have customized their appearance to look more stylish.
As one can probably guess, the primary intention of these towels is to wipe off sweat. Sometimes, inclement weather with rain, sleet, or snow can also make the player's hands wet.
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Football players use the towels to keep their hands and/or forearms dry when they play. Wet or moist hands can affect one’s grip on the ball, and can even spell the difference between winning or losing a match.
Dry hands for the quarterback
Keeping a good grip on the ball is particularly important for a quarterback, which is why he is the most likely person to be wearing a towel on the field. He usually wears it in front, so he can dry his hand before taking a snap. The quarterback handles the ball a lot, taking it from the center, sending it off to a running back, or tossing it to a wide receiver. It is critical for him to keep both his hands and the ball clean.
The center, meanwhile, touches the ball first, so having dry hands is crucial. Aside from having to deal with sweat that he could drip on the football right before a snap, the ball may also get muddy from the ground.
Dry arms are needed too
The running back has to be able to carry the ball firmly, and it’s difficult to do that with sweaty arms and hands. When handling the football, security is paramount.
Thus, he has to make sure that aside from his hands, his forearms and even his biceps are dry. This may seem like a minor detail, but small plays can spell big disasters.
Finally, the wide receiver has to make sure the ball doesn’t slither from his possession when he catches it. Like the running back, he needs to keep most of his arm dry to avoid fumbling or dropping the football.
The towels though have been used for another reason in the past that goes beyond just keeping both person and ball clean and dry. Players have worn pink versions in October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.