When Ravens veteran defensive end Chris Canty was entering the NFL draft in 2005, he was struck in the eye with a beer bottle while trying to leave a bar when a fight broke out.
Canty suffered a detached retina that required emergency surgery, which saved his eyesight. Because of the serious damage to his left eye, Canty wears a special facemask with several horizontal and vertical bars along with a dark visor attached to his helmet for protection.
Canty has to apply again for medical approval to continue wearing that facemask after being granted permission along with three other players last year, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.
NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent wrote a memo to all teams this week emphasizing that the league will continue to prohibit oversized and non-standardized facemasks for safety reasons, citing medical studies.
"This is an important player-safety matter," McCarthy wrote in the email. "There were four players who had medical approval in 2013, including Canty. All four have the opportunity to be re-evaluated prior to this season. Provided the players receive medical exemptions, they will be able wear the non-standard facemasks this season."
Canty, who's been wearing the facemask since his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, said he was unaware of the memo.
"Not sure what the memo or new policy is, but it's simple for me," Canty said. "No eye shield and custom mask means I can't play. Eye would be at risk."
When Canty played for the New York Giants, his teammates referred to the facemask as "The Big Grille." There's even a Facebook page devoted to the headgear as well.
"I invented it," Canty said. "It's that simple. I can't play without it. I can't help it that other guys think it's cool and they want to wear it, too. It's a necessity for me."
This is the full memo from Vincent to NFL teams:
"As part of our continuing effort to protect our players from unnecessary risk, we are continuing to prohibit the use of non-standard/overbuilt facemasks for the 2014 season.
As reported at the League meeting, recent research strongly suggests that non-standardized facemasks present particular safety risks and should not be used. Among other issues, those facemasks more frequently fail the certification tests conducted by NOCSAE. As you know, helmets and facemasks must be certified by NOCSAE to be used in the NFL.
Attached is an "Executive Summary" of the research conducted under the supervision of Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz of the University of North Carolina and Dr. Erik Swartz of the University of New Hampshire.
Based on this research, and consistent with the recommendations of the Competition Committee, the Owners' Health & Safety Committee, the Player Safety Advisory Panel, and the HNS Subcommittee on Safety Equipment and Playing Rules, the Commissioner has determined that non-standard or overbuilt facemasks will not be permitted on the field for the 2014 season.
We have attached several photos of standard and "overbuilt" facemasks to illustrate the distinctions between the two. The latter are currently characterized by more bars, smaller spaces between the bars, and a generally larger coverage area. Club equipment managers have done an effective job in the past of distinguishing between standard and overbuilt facemasks. If you have any questions about a particular mask, please contact Dave Gardi or myself before authorizing the use of that mask on the field.
In addition, under no circumstances should a helmet be modified with a facemask from a different manufacturer. Doing so will likely void the warranty on the helmet and may present other safety risks as well. Even if a non-standard facemask is manufactured by the same company that makes the helmet, those masks are not permissible.
Any player who had medical approval to use such a facemask in 2013 must be reevaluated prior to the 2014 season. This re-evaluation must include providing the player with specific information concerning the risks associated with a non-standard facemask and confirming the player's specific understanding of those risks. No new medical exemptions will be granted unless the player demonstrates both a genuine medical need for use of a non-standard mask and that no other alternative will provide similar safeguards. Any player who receives an exemption for 2014 must similarly receive information about the risks of these facemasks."