Are facial hair bans in sports racist?

Associated Press

The Miami Marlins recently made headlines by banning facial hair for its on-field personnel. That led Jack Moore to write a column over at Vocativ about the history of facial hair bans in sports. It’s a pretty revealing history.

Revealing in that such bans are almost always reactionary. They began in earnest as a response to counterculture values and, in no small part, were first conceived of in a response to black athletes with mustaches, beards and muttonchops and tended to be enforced against them first as well. Moore’s detailing of a college wrestler and the Oregon State football team’s experience in the late 1960s is particularly revealing in this regard.

In baseball, Moore notes that no players wore facial hair between 1917 and 1971. But not because of some official ban for the most part. It was only when the culture at large began to be more free with its follicles that baseball considered such a ban, clearly as a means of keeping the real world at bay. A world in which, as with a lot of things, blacks like Dick Allen and his big sideburns set fashion trends. That ban never went into effect and Reggie Jackson, Charlie Finley and the Oakland A’s helped open the floodgates to facial hair in baseball. Hirsute ballplayers were everywhere in the 70s, confined themselves to mostly cop mustaches in the 80s, were almost non-existent in the 90s but have since come back to the extreme in the form of big, crazy and, truth be told, often ugly beards today.

But there have been holdouts. Marge Schott maintained a ban on facial hair for years. The Yankees did too. Now the Marlins. With Schott you can point to racism in her history and assume that that, as well as disdain for perceived counterculture values, drove things. With the Yankees and now the Marlins it’s more of a generalized image thing, I suspect. The desire to communicate clean-cut conservative values to their fanbase which, even if it isn’t racist, is certainly sending some sort of cultural message. And really, what other purpose could there be for such bans? It’s not like mustaches and beards get in the way of a swing. It’s all about communicating a conservative image.

It’s interesting reading. It should force a person to ask themselves what the Marlins are up to here and why.