Tackling Fashion in Sports


Published: May 1, 2008

In the time I have spent as The Observer’s sports editor, I have learned a great deal from our advisor Dr. Elizabeth Stone. With a wealth of knowledge to share, Dr. Stone has always been there to provide assistance, but after two years of her guidance, it has come to my attention that when it comes to sports, the poor woman doesn’t know jack. Over the course of the many conversations we have had about the section, Dr. Stone has put forth a few priceless gems—observations that only a non-sports fan could make. So for those of you who share in Dr. Stone’s deficits, here’s a quick explanation of some of the sports world’s more perplexing aspects.

Why do they wear that silly eye make-up?

By silly eye make-up, Dr. Stone is referring to the eye black often sported by baseball and football players during games. Eye black is grease made from beeswax, paraffin and carbon that is applied below a player’s eye to prevent glare from either the sun or stadium lights. Glare can impede a player’s ability to follow an airborne ball. The earliest known instance of a player sporting eye black occurred in 1942 when Andy Farkas of the Washington Redskins apparently developed the substance on his own, creating eye black from burned cork ashes.

The whole nine yards: football or fabric?

Neither, actually. The phrase “the whole nine yards” means the full extent of something. Though it would seem that a correlation to football exists, a first down in the sport requires the offense to travel 10 yards, not nine. So where does the phrase come from? There are many debated theories about its origin. The phrase made its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1970, but there is speculation that it was being used as early as 1955. Common belief is that the phrase is a reference to concrete trucks that would carry nine yards of concrete at full load or to the name given the poles that hold up sails on a boat, in which three masts had three yards each, making for nine yards total.

What is up with the range of baggy basketball shorts?

As  hip-hop culture and basketball have become more and more linked, the official attire of basketball has undergone a makeover. Shorts have become bigger and baggier, with the elongated lengths of most basketball shorts now making them comparable to cropped pants. But the uniforms of old have not faded entirely from the consciousness of the sports community. The popularity of uniforms from a team’s past, known as throwback uniforms, has seen a return to the short-shorts for the NBA, mimicking of the now-retired leather helmets by the NFL and a reprise of the powder blue jerseys last seen in Major League Baseball in 1991.