I Was So Positive Soccer Players Are Faking It When They Roll Around, Grabbing Their Shins, That I Let a Co-worker Kick Me In the Shin As Hard As She Could

Do shinguards actually work?

Two highly-trained athletes rolling around, holding their shins.
Photo illustration by Slate. Screenshots via Fox and Slate/Erin Burgin.

It happens several times every game in the World Cup: After a hard tackle or a collision, one player writhes upon the turf, crying out in agony and clutching his … shin. And each time, I complain, to any poor soul watching with me, “His shin doesn’t hurt! He’s wearing shinguards!”

During Wednesday’s match between Mexico and Sweden, the player was Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist, rolling around with both hands on his shinguard after an interaction with Mexico’s Hirving Lozano. Lozano was called for a foul, while Granqvist feigned injury to his shin.

This is obviously baloney! Look, I understand that these are professional athletes moving at high speed, wearing cleats. I know that soccer players, even Neymar, get legitimately hurt when someone kicks an unprotected ankle or bashes a hard noggin against another hard noggin. Your knee, your back, your absolute unit—all of those would hurt a lot if someone kicked you in them. But the shin? The only part of the player’s body specifically protected by a hard plastic sheath? Come on, Andreas Granqvist. Give me a break.

My colleagues disagreed. David Plotz told me I was imagining this epidemic of players grabbing their shins. “They’re getting kicked in their ankles,” he said. “Have you ever played soccer?” Slate’s head of events, Faith Smith, told me I had no idea what I was talking about. “Shinguards are not that protective!” she insisted. “And these guys are kicking as hard as they can! It definitely hurts.”

So I made her an offer: I would wear shinguards to the office. She would kick me as hard as she could in the shin. We’d see what happened.

A Slack conversation between Faith and Dan.

After Thursday’s morning matches, we faced off in Slate’s Washington office. Faith was nervous: “This is really going to hurt! I don’t want to hurt you!”

“You’re not gonna hurt me,” I said. “And if you do, I’m asking for it.”

Luckily, other employees goaded her on: “Really hurt him!” shouted Panoply’s manager of ad operations, Erin Burgin, holding the camera. So Faith wound up her courage and struck:

It didn’t hurt. I felt the impact, sure, but the shinguard guarded my shin, as advertised.

I told Faith to give it another try:

Nope! Even rolling around like some kind of Andreas Granqvist fooled nobody, least of all myself. My shin felt totally fine. Faith pointed out that real soccer players would kick even harder than her, which I can’t deny, but the people on the other end of those shin-kicks are also real soccer players, not 43-year-old magazine editors! Science has proved for once and for all: Players are faking when they grab their shins. Find another body part to feign injury with, World Cup players.

On the other hand, I did slightly pull a muscle in my back while rolling around on the ground. That’s quite strenuous!