NFL Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson acknowledged he advised QB Cam Newton prior to selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft not to get any piercings or tattoos, and THE DAILY offers a roundup of reactions to Richardson’s actions (Sports Business Journal Daily, 08/26/11).  SI.com’s Don Banks wrote he is thankful the Panthers did not draft QB Terrelle Pryor, as “tattoos are pretty much the reason Pryor was available for the supplemental draft to begin with” (SI.com, 8/25).  So do we as coaches and leaders of young men have the right to dissuade generational trends in appearance for the privilege of participating in our program?

Player image is an area where team concepts may supersede an individual’s preference in relation to physical appearance.  To be a member of our squad you may have to make some sacrifices in your personal taste to conform to the image that we should project.

What we are confronted with this generation is far different than when I was a student/athlete in the 1970’s.  As a freshman in high school in 1972 my coach in Keokuk, Iowa took a tape scissors to cut my hair that flowed from the back of my helmet, cutting it with my helmet on so that he trimmed off precisely what he wanted (okay, those of you that know me can stop laughing now since I support a clean shaven dome) and in 1975 as a senior in Muncie, Indiana a rule was imposed of no facial hair and my carefully groomed Joe Namath styled fu-man-chu was shaved off much to my chagrin but that was simply hair.  It grows back…sometimes.  As a college player I supported the Kenny Stabler look of a full beard and hair that flopped out of the back of my helmet. Today we are dealing with decisions that young people are making that will remain indelible.

We certainly do not want to take away a players individualism but there is a middle ground that can be reached.  Seasonal enforcement of hair length is not unreasonable.  Flowing locks or dreadlocks that cover the nameplate on the jersey and the numbers on the shoulders is extreme and little is ever mentioned that the proper fit of the helmet is compromised particularly with dreadlocks.  At the high school and collegiate level your personal responsibility as a coach is greater than at the professional level to ensure that those youngsters understand the safety factors involved.  We simply, over the years, have taken an approach of nothing extreme when it came to hair length.  Facial hair and mustaches for todays generation is a more closer stubble type fashion and not as extreme as in the ’70’s.

I spoke with my team as a head collegiate coach about not caring as to whom manufactured your underwear.  I didn’t and still don’t care if Tommy, Calvin, Joe Boxer, or the Fruit of the Loom guys themselves made your underwear!  I don’t want to see it and nobody else should either.  Why in the world would anyone want to glorify prison sex and make no mistake, that is where the trend originated.  Pull up your pants!  I sent a note to all department heads stating that if a football player showed up to class with his underwear exposed, I would appreciate notification of such.  The players responded better than the faculty as I received memo’s with concern of our infringement of students rights.  The faculty missed the point or were not capable of understanding representing a group or program relating to image projection.

On campus you are a student who happens to play football and must be a responsible member of the campus community.  As a professional you are representing a multi-million to billion dollar enterprise along with the league and the metropolitan area and often an entire state or province.  The leaders of those organizations have every right to impose attire and grooming standards as you are representing a franchise or institution.  Our college team travelled in team sweat suits which gave us uniformity and didn’t single out kids that couldn’t afford true dress clothes.  In the XFL and CFL we travelled by commercial airlines and always felt that with that type of exposure a suit or at the very least, today’s standard of business casual was appropriate and although in the NFL we travelled by charter, those men dressed as true professionals on a business trip which is exactly what it is.

Amateur or professional, eyes are always on members of the program and everyone involved must strive to be a genuine, class, quality, and successful person.  They all can’t be choir boys but an understanding of the group dynamics will serve all.  Quality and class personal traits and playing to your full potential will result in success.  We have found at all levels, characteristics of successful people include:

1.  Positive mental attitude (optimism)    2.  Honesty    3. Courage   4.  Generosity   5.  Kindliness   6.  Desire   7.  Initiative   8.  Organizing ability   9.  Concentration   10.  Learn from adversity   11.  Quality appearance     12.  Respect for others   13.  Knowledge   14.  Commitment   15. Faith   16.  Love   17.  Integrity                     18.  Unselfishness   19.  Poise   20.  Loyalty   21.  Pride   22.  Decision making   23.  Adaptability                   24.  Thoroughness

These qualities must be taught and cultivated.  People with tattoos and piercings certainly can possess all of these but first perceptions are difficult to overcome.  I hired a coach that had an ear stud.  One of the absolute best coaches I have ever had the privilege to work with.  Upon his hiring some boosters voiced concern to the Athletic Director that I was hiring “hippies” and I was called to the AD’s office and asked to convey to the coach to stop wearing the jewelry.  It was ridiculous.  I spoke with the coach and he continued to wear the ear stud for about another year and then discontinued at his own discretion.  I hired that same coach again nine years later after he had spent time in the SEC, Big East, and Big 12 so having a hole in his earlobe didn’t make him an outlaw but the fact remains that people are judgemental on first impression and it is important for your people to portray a collective appearance that you feel provides the representation you desire for your club and community.

Jerry Richardson was not out of line asking Cam Newton, his first over-all pick that he is investing $50 million in to represent his franchise, to avoid tattoos and piercings .  You are not out of line to ask your players that you may be investing simply time and effort into, to conform to the image that you want to project.

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