This year’s playoffs have been tough on NBA players’ groins. Draymond Green kicked things off when he swung his leg between Steven Adams’ legs during the Western Conference Finals. Dahntay Jones clocked Bismack Biyombo in the testicles in the Eastern Conference Finals, Matthew Dellavedova punched Andre Iguodala’s crotch in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and then Green struck again with a “retaliatory swipe” to the groin of LeBron James in Game 4, a move which got him suspended from Monday night’s Game 5.
These below-the-belt hits raised a slew of questions about the players’ intentions and what constitutes a flagrant foul. But it also brought to mind a more fundamental issue: Why weren’t any of these guys wearing cups?
Because, despite recent evidence to the contrary, playing professional basketball isn’t all that perilous for one’s family jewels. Earlier this year, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh wrote a comprehensive account of testicular trauma in the NBA. For that piece, he spoke to Dr. Stephen Strup, the chief of urology at the University of Kentucky, who explained that the discomfort of wearing a cup isn’t worth it given the minimal risk of getting hit in the nether regions. “There isn’t enough of an issue to wear a cup,” Strup said. “It’s hard to generate enough pressure for major injuries to occur in basketball. You see the guys go out, they’re uncomfortable and they can’t function a little bit, but usually they’re back in a few minutes.”
Manu Ginobili wouldn’t agree with that assessment. The San Antonio Spurs shooting guard underwent testicular surgery and missed more than a month of competition earlier this year after taking a knee to the groin. Upon his return, the veteran said he would be taking protective measures.
.@manuginobili will wear protective cup. 'That’s only thing I’ve got to get used to. Something we don’t deal with but 1000s of athletes do.'— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) March 3, 2016
Football players generally don’t wear cups either, and haven’t for some time, according to a 2005 Slate article by Daniel Akst. As Akst explained, the NFL’s cup aversion has to do with “speed and performance.”
The best reason to wear an athletic supporter is so you can wear a protective cup. Once again, for the uninitiated: Jockstraps come in two flavors: plain, and a kind of marsupial version that accepts a removable cup made of hard plastic. A well-placed blow in this region is not only agonizing; it can destroy a testicle. […] I had heard that NFL players don't wear cups but was still astonished when Joe Skiba, assistant equipment manager of the New York Giants, provided confirmation. "The majority of players feel that less is more, especially padding below the torso," he explained via e-mail. “They feel that it hinders their speed and performance.”
In a 2013 article for ESPN, David Fleming quotes the Lions’ Nate Burleson as saying “it’s one of those things that you try to be as fast and as sleek as possible, so I just never found any use for it.” Another player, Russell Allen, told Fleming, “It makes mobility difficult. They get in the way of moving around. It’s like a big, hard plastic thing, and you’re trying to move around and it affects your agility and your ability to move.” Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson added that players “have too much pride for it.”
Soccer players also eschew cups for the most part, which is why you’ll see them clutching their groins when they line up in a wall to block a free kick.
Hockey players—who risk getting struck by a block of rubber traveling at top speeds—do opt for testicular protection. The Edmonton Oilers’ Matt Hendricks took a slap shot to the crotch in January that was so powerful it cracked his plastic cup nearly in half.
According to this ESPN article from 2011—also by America’s leading groin-based wordsmith David Fleming—about half of pro baseball players wear cups. The Cleveland Indians’ Juan Uribe likely wished he was in that group on Monday when a grounder took a mean hop and connected with his undercarriage.
In 2013, New York ran through the history of “baseball players who took their chances and went cupless.” One of those was Carl Crawford, who suffered a testicular contusion after getting nailed by a pickoff throw. Afterward, Crawford summed up the attitude of his athletic brethren: “I don’t wear a cup. Never wore a cup. I do too many moves to wear a cup. ... I’m still not going to wear a cup.”