Watching any game of American football is like watching men preparing for war and, even though they don’t bring any football visors, their gear should be scary enough for their opponents. Apart from the protective shoulders and mouthpieces, most football players seem to undergo a special ritual of putting on black paint around their cheeks and eyes.
The phenomenon is called “black eyeing” and it is almost as popular as the game itself. However, as scary as it may seem, it won’t conjure any demons or bad spirits but it is for the protection of the players. If you want to learn more about the reason why football players wear eye black, here is what you should know.
Before diving into any historical connotation of the eyeblack and the original reason why it became popular, let’s be clear on one thing. Most current football players still choose to wear eye black for the sole reason that it looks cool. And intimidating.
And, there is nothing more intimidating than watching a bunch of college kids all dressing up, looking to pick a fight with the members of the opposite team, chasing around a ball on a 100-yard-long football field.
Black-eye looks cool and we cannot stress this enough. As we previously mentioned, painting someone’s face with black will look as if they are ready for war and battle. They are expected to take one or more for the team, and even willing to injure themselves to score.
Nothing else matters besides the final touchdown. We can see it with every season of the Superbowl and, truth be told, the black eye continues to play an important role. In movies and real life, pro football players will display the black cheek look but how efficient is it and, most importantly, why do athletes continue this tradition?
Why do football players wear eye black?
Apart from the terrifying effect that it has on someone’s look, football players continue to wear eye black for other reasons too.
Peter Zana, an associate at the Black Lab Sports, mentioned that using black paint around a footballer’s eyes will reduce the amount of light reflecting off the cheek, diminishing the perceived glare in the sky. Glare is one of the many invisible enemies football players encounter on the field, apart from the temperatures outside, the wind, and the type of terrain.
It can also interfere with your vision and make you lose valuable decision time during the most intense game moments on the field.
The history of wearing black paint around the eyes started with football player Andrew Farkas, back in 1942. He would rub ash under his eyes, claiming that the ritual helped him reduce glare and increase contrast recognition, so that it was easier to track the ball.
A lot of things changed in the past 80 years, and now you can find eye black made of organic materials and in various colors. Therefore, the original “eye black” can now be blue, green, white, and has little to do with its original purpose and more with a way to show off your team pride.
How to apply and remove eye black
If you’re looking to dive into the trend of the black eye, you can try one of the two options currently available on the market – stick or stickers. You can rub the stick on your cheeks or use prefabricated stickers that are easy to apply and remove at all times.
Generally speaking, eye black is similar to any cream or balm you would normally apply on your face, so you won’t have to worry too much about the way you put it on.
Remove the cap and start at the outside of one of your cheekbones, below the edge of the eye cavity. Use your fingers to draw a line across your cheek ending, close to the bridge of your nose, and repeat the process for the other half of your face. For more accurate results, follow the instructions provided on the box of the product.
Stickers are even easier to apply and all you have to do is remove them from their sheet and stick them to both your cheeks, half an inch below the eyes. Make sure they are centered to protect the entire area under your eyes.
Most of these stickers are designed to withstand heat, sweat, and body oils but this doesn’t mean you’ll have a hard time removing them. Just peel them off after each game and wash your face with water to remove any glue residues.
How effective is eye black?
What started as a joke or a superstition easily turned into a ritual blindly followed by generations of football players. However, some people argue that many of today’s football games are held after sundown, especially to increase the comfort of players on the field and avoid going to extreme lengths like putting on eye black.
This is also one of the main reasons why most football fields are made with real grass today as opposed to the fake one, which would be a more affordable solution.
Real grass can absorb heat better and create a cooler atmosphere on the field, especially when there are over 90 degrees outside. As a result, footballers will be able to dose their physical efforts better and improve breathing so they can run for a longer time. Moreover, real grass emits less heat and helps players focus better on their tasks on the field.
Getting back to the original reason for using eye black, how effective do you think it is?
There were several studies conducted over the past couple of decades to demonstrate whether or not eye black is a myth or has some science behind it that can improve a football player’s performances on the field. Some of the most popular studies belong to Yale University and the University of New Hampshire.
Although both of them started the research with skepticism and encountered slightly different results, they did agree on one thing: the traditional cheek and eye grease made from carbon, paraffin, and beeswax can improve contrast sensitivity and reduce glare. However, the results vary depending on a person’s gender and eye color.
Both studies also agreed that petroleum jelly and stickers don’t have any impact on a player’s performance and are mainly applied as eye decor to add a touch of “bad boy attitude”.
Despite the evidence, many researchers are still skeptical regarding the true impact of eye grease or eye black on the overall performance of an athlete.
Dr. Henneth Fuld, chairman of the University of New Hampshire’s Psychology department and the one who ordered the study begs to differ. He sees eye black more as a psychological benefit and a declaration of war rather than a true boost on the field, and his main argument is that not only football and baseball players deal with balls thrown at incredibly high speeds but also tennis players.
The latter don’t wear eye black and are still capable of tracking the ball and hit it with their rackets. These tennis players perform at a high level and handle similar difficulties as football players on the field, and they don’t seem to find any benefit in wearing eye black.
Coincidence or not, some of the best NFL receivers in terms of receiving yards, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans, and Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, both regularly use eye black during their games.
The efficiency of eye black might also depend on a player’s skin color. Football players with darker skin have more melanin and might have an advantage as the skin around their eyes is already protected against glare by it. Therefore, applying eye black would be somewhat redundant strictly in terms of anti-glare benefits.
So, how do you explain that both Andre and Calvin Johnson, top NFL players, both POC, continue using eye black in all their games? Some call it superstition, others call it a psychological advantage.
To sum up, the efficiency of eye black is yet to be proven as more studies in the field are required. Although it may not have more than a psychological impact, it won’t harm either, as long as you stick to the original formula made of paraffin, beeswax, and carbon.
A blue sticker applied under the eye area won’t turn you into an NFL MVP but can help you show some team spirit and lift your morale while on the field. If you think that putting on eye black can improve your athletic performances, you can continue doing so. However, there is little data to support that this habit will have any effect on your endurance or focus while running.