In many sports, players wear face paint as a way of intimidating their opponents. In football, however, the most common reason is to provide warmth by adding an extra layer to the exposed skin of the face.
Black paint works on a similar principle to black clothing warming up in the sun—black absorbs more light than other colors, leading to an increase in temperature.
Face paint also helps to keep the wind off the face, which can prevent frostbite and keep players from being distracted by cold-induced irritation (i.e., chapping).
So, Why do football players wear face paint? Football players paint their eyes black, sometimes full face, to better connect with their fans and maintain traditions. Additionally, face paint prevents sunburn and helps them get into a more serious mindset.
9 Reasons football players wear face paint:
To help stay hydrated:
The paint helps keep players in shape. During a football game, the body loses quite a bit of water. The activity and weather can dry out your skin, but the paint is there to help.
It forms a barrier between your skin and the elements and actually helps retain moisture on the skin. The sweat will moisturize you from within and the body’s natural oils will come through as well. This keeps players looking good and feeling healthy throughout the game despite getting sweaty in all kinds of conditions.
To get into the “game headspace”:
Whether you’re a football player or a creative director, getting into the right headspace can make all the difference in your performance. So it makes sense that there are some players who paint their faces with tribal designs or team colors before they take the field.
To connect with their fans:
The football culture has long since made it acceptable to cover one’s face in body paint in order to support a particular player or team. And for good reason: It’s intimidating for the other team, but also fun for the fans!
Face painting has become such a widely-recognized symbol in today’s game that many players even have their own signature designs and colors. For example, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell which NFL player was wearing the body paint without seeing his facial expression or hearing his name announced over the loudspeaker.
What do NFL players say about the face-paint tradition?
The tradition of face paint and other fan-centric displays started to gain popularity in the late 1970s when a Raiders rookie named Howie Long decided that it was time to get himself into the game. In one of his first games, he proclaimed himself “the Meanest Man Alive” before getting in on the action by knocking a few helmets off players from the opposing team.
This was long before all players were required to wear their helmet visors, so there it went—his head, with no helmet on.
The crowd roared with laughter as they watched him get beat up more than they did when they watched a regular football game. Long knew he needed something to get his opponents’ attention, so he didn’t let them forget that he was out there.
He had some brightly colored face paint on and also got word that all Raiders would be wearing eye black for Sunday Night Football against the Chiefs. He came out in full force looking like Frankenstein with green all over his face like a bandit from the old west fighting Jesse James and Frank James at the same time—but instead of gunslinging, this wild guy was carrying the ball and getting after people!
The rest of the NFL players soon followed suit by getting painted up and wearing eye black because Why? Because it worked! They saw how great it looked both during live broadcasting and among fans at stadiums later at night when that paint was usually gone or washed off (or worn by someone else).
There’s no way you could have missed Howie Long in early 1980s football who looked like he just stepped right out of an old western movie starring Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. Or linebacker Jack Lambert, who had several shades of bronze paint splattered over his entire head while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Or running back Emmitt Smith, who even wore a dark purple mask with blood-red eyes whenever his team played during halftime.
And then there’s Tom Brady, who looks really cool today but will probably never stay young
There are many reasons why football players paint their faces
- It’s a tradition that started with Native American tribes.
- It’s a way to connect with fans. Paint typically represents the team colors, and fans often paint their faces too.
- It can be used as intimidation—an expression of how much they want to win.
- The face paint can be used as something to help them get into “game headspace.” Like any other kind of routine, it becomes part of their preparation for the game and may help them get into a more serious mindset.
- It can prevent sunburn, which is especially helpful during outdoor games in sunny climates.
- Wearing face paint helps players stay hydrated because you’re less likely to sweat when your pores are covered up by something—in this case, the thick layer of paint on their faces keeps the sweat from evaporating easily and tricking the body into thinking it doesn’t need more water.
Is it legal?
From rec leagues to the NFL, face paint is a lively way to show team spirit and intimidate your opponents. But what are the rules around sporting face paint on the field?
For most football players, it’s perfectly legal for them to wear face paint. However, if you’re playing in a league or game that has strict guidelines about what is and isn’t allowed on the field, the legality of your makeup might come into question.
If you’re concerned about how your favorite player’s face paint will affect their eligibility, be sure to check with organizers before you head out onto the field.
Is it common?
It would be more accurate to say that some football players wear face paint than that all football players wear face paint. It is most common in the NFL, with certain players using it as a method of intimidation or an expression of team spirit. NFL players who do not wear face paint are still allowed to play.
Colleges and high schools have their own rules about face paint, and generally speaking, it’s less common in those ranks than in the NFL.
Additionally, there are other professional football leagues around the world where players do not ever use face paint—most notably, the Canadian Football League (CFL) and Australian Football League (AFL).
Face paint is often considered taboo by coaches looking to create a clean-cut image for their teams; however, these leagues do allow tattoos, which you may consider an aggressive adornment if you need your team to look more corporate.
Is it improve performance?
Players are more concerned about toughness and intimidation than performance, so NFL teams often have the paint specialist draw intimidating designs along the players’ helmets and faces.
NFL player David Tyree used to wear face paint before every game to give him a warrior or animal look. However, he felt that the NFL banned his tradition because they were afraid he would scare children away from playing football.
Paint also has an inspirational purpose that can help motivate teammates. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the New Orleans Saints football team used eye black with an “N” design painted on their faces to represent solidarity with their community. The team’s coach, Sean Payton, also wore a black eye stripe as a sign of mourning during his post-game press conference after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
How does it help?
Football players know that the toughest part of playing a game is staying hydrated, so they’ve developed various ways to keep themselves cool and energized. One popular means of staying hydrating is by dunking water bottles in cold water, then drinking from the bottle with their mouths open. This method works well for catching a few gulps of water but gets old fast. Players also get thirsty during aerobic exercise—a process called “sweat loss”—so they use face paint to rehydrate and stay energized when they’re sweating off excess fluids.
Face paint is walking along with football players for a long time and there is no way it is going to stop in the US. I think it’s a part of The US tradition that makes fans crazy.