The Cup Stops Here

Perhaps among the most important pieces of male athletic gear, the protective cup hasn't changed much over the years. Inspired by a recent NHL hockey incident, The Score seeks to find out why
The final stage in protective athletic cup evolution?

When it comes to sports, Patrick Thorensen nearly redefined the term sacrifice. In successfully sliding across the ice to block a shot in a recent playoff game, the left wing for the Philadelphia Flyers came close to losing a testicle. Adding insult to the near ultimate injury, the Washington Capitals scored on a rebound while Thorensen rolled in agony (and grown men cried themselves to sleep). The 24-year old was rushed to the hospital and underwent two ultrasound tests to ensure there was no “rupture.”

So, while Thorensen has a dented cup to thank for his manhood, it begs the question: what more can science do to protect our cajones? A quick Google of ‘protective cups’ provides a range of sizes and colors available from $8 to $25, none differing greatly from the cups our fathers (and fathers’ fathers?) have donned for years. With a tank of gas at $50, isn’t the male population willing to splurge a bit on reproductive life insurance?

Our search for the Perfect Cup began with Dr. Anthony Smith, the Chief of Urology at the University of New Mexico.

“The main thing is just to avoid the direct blow. If you get any sort of high speed impact, that’s going to cause trouble,” said Smith. “I think most of the cups people use for sports are pretty effective because I don’t see many athletes coming in with injuries that need to be dealt with.” (Tell that to Thorensen)

Hardly a beacon for change, we next reached out to XO Athletics, manufacturer of the Pro Cup ($14.95) that since its launch in 2002 has taken 60% of the market share. A flexible elastomer on the outside of the cup adds comfort without sacrificing protection in what XO calls the “first major redesign in 20 years.” Not quite what we envisioned, but certainly such revolutionary innovators are hard at work for the boys of future boys, right?

“The male form hasn’t changed in how many thousands of years? There’s really not many ways down there to protect a guy and protect him with some sense of comfort,” said XO President Jim Landi. “Its kind of like toilet paper, it’s still the same thing it was 150 years ago, it’s paper on roll. There’s not too many ways to skin the cat.”

Dejected yet determined, we turned to a budding leader in the protection market and a man amongst men, Mark Littell. A former MLB pitcher and inventor of the NuttyBuddy, Littell is so confident in his product that he’s taken 90 mph fastballs to his junk on national TV in an unparalleled, if not slightly disturbing, customer testimonial (see video below).

The NuttyBuddy (or Nutty for short) has a more anatomical shape that distributes the force of an impact to the pelvic area and provides a more contoured space “for testicle A and testicle B,” according to Littell. It’s only available online and in four sizes – “Hammer,” “Boss,” “Hog” and “Mongo” (We couldn’t make this up). The cup is polycarbonate lexan which Littell claims is four times the price of plastics used by competitors, yet still just $19.95.

Littell says the roomier shape of the Nutty is a key to both comfort and protection, citing more confining models’ lack of space. (“That’s why [ball players] are constantly grabbing them”). More room results in a more natural fit, “the way that the Man upstairs made them,” says Littell.

This might also help avoid complications from a condition we learned about from Dr. Smith and still can’t speak about in public. (Google “testicular torsion” if you dare).

“Some men are born with what’s called a Bell Clapper deformity where the testicle has a transverse lay. So what can tend to happen is that those testicles can be prone to twisting. We’ve seen patients with a direct blow where they can twist more easily.”

But I digress. Littell claims his device doesn’t need improvement and that with 50,000 sold and hundreds of testimonials, his design truly is “protecting the boys,” as claims. So confident is he in the Nutty’s design that a forthcoming law enforcement version will merely utilize bullet resistant material while maintaining the same geometry (and, yes, before you ask, he seriously plans on taking a bullet to prove it works)

So, is this it? Is this all we can offer to Thorensen and scores of men on their knees on playing fields across the country? Perhaps harder plastic with an individual cubbyhole, pelvic dispersion and flexible elastomers is enough. But the scientist in each of us wants more. So consider this a challenge to every engineer, designer, and frat boy to do more for that which means so much to us all. To design the inflatable gel system with a hydraulic pump and impact sensors. Because seriously, when shopping for a cup, is anybody really looking on the sale rack? If you build it, we will pay.

Finally, Littell in action:

Thanks, Deadspin, for posing the question.