Have you noticed something different with NFL officials this year? This year, NFL officials have been sporting facial hair and down judge Sarah Thomas is wearing her hair in a ponytail, out the back of an adjustable official’s hat. (Up until this season, she wore her hair pinned up under her hat during the game)
The NFL has always been strict and traditional in how its officials should present themselves.
Now this year, the traditions are starting to relax.
Some zebras put the razor away last month
In the first 100 years of NFL officiating, facial hair was mostly frowned upon. The people running the NFL thought beards looked sloppy or officials wearing beards appeared suspicious.
Many officials have worn beards in the offseason. There are photos of Ed Hochuli, Garth DeFelice and even senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson wearing offseason facial hair. But, they brought out the razors when July rolled around and it was time for clinics and training camps.
In his book Offsides!, referee Fred Wyant wrote that he let his beard grow long in the offseason. Wyant (who enjoyed pushing supervisor Art McNally’s buttons), showed up to a preseason clinic with a full, Grizzly Adams beard. McNally told him that his beard had better be gone by the next day if he wanted to officiate that season. Wyant shaved.
Over the years, the NFL allowed officials to sport a moustache while officiating.
But, this year the NFL relaxed facial hair standards and allowed officials to grow a beard for No Shave November, or “Movember.” Movember is a movement where men don’t shave for a month to raise funds for, and bring awareness to, men’s health issues and suicide prevention. Three referees sported scruff this past month: Alex Kemp, Brad Rogers and Jerome Boger.
Non-referees could have grown beards too, but it was hard to tell with them wearing masks almost all the time.
Officials keep the barber in business
NFL officials never wore long hair, even in the mullet’s glory days of the 1970s and 1980s. While the officials in the 1970s might have enjoyed poufy, feathered hair, we didn’t see long hair protruding out the back of a hat.
Most NFL officials work in the business world, so mullets and ponytails weren’t their style — until the NFL hired Sarah Thomas in 2015.
For the first five years of her career, Thomas pinned her hair under her cap. Starting this year, the NFL gave her permission to wear an adjustable cap and wear her hair in a ponytail out the back.
Now, the big question is, will the NFL allow beards full time? I guess we’ll find out in the coming months.
The realist in me understands that an officials’ appearance does not impact how good of an official they are. Jerry Markbreit could have worn a beard like ZZ Top, and he still would have been the best referee of the 1980s and 1990s.
But, the traditionalist in me cringes to see facial hair on officials. But, I cringed when the officials changed the color of their caps, went to black pants and unique shirts. Yet the republic didn’t fall and the NFL became even more popular.
NFL officials are fastidious about their appearance. With a group that prides itself on tradition and conformity, beards and ponytails came as a jolt this season.
We’ll see if this jolt has enough juice to become commonplace.