Why Do Football Players Wear Eye Black?


A football player with eye black smiling.

If you’ve ever watched a football game at any level, you’ve likely seen a player with eye black under or around their eyes. This often looks quite intimidating, but is there another purpose to those marks? If you’ve ever wondered this, don’t worry – you’re not alone!

So, why do football players wear eye black?

Football players wear eye black to limit the effect of glare from sunlight and artificial light, by absorbing the light rays before they reach the players’ eyes. Eye black can be made from a variety of materials and in a variety of shapes, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

There has been a significant amount of research done into eye black over the years, which has shown surprising results despite the widespread use and generally accepted effectiveness of the glare-reducing material. However, certain benefits have been proven, especially when specific materials or designs are used.

What Is Eye Black?

Eye black is a common sight in football games, but not every player wears it. Even within the ranks of those who do wear eye black, there is lots of variation in material, designs, and even using it with one eye or both eyes.

Those who do wear eye black may do it for a variety of reasons, but the most scientific of these reasons is to reduce glare. There’s always some amount of light present at a football game – after all, the players have to be able to see the ball!

Light, whether natural or artificial, does have the potential to get too bright and limit a player’s ability to see during a game. If a player were to have to squint against light or glare, their ability to track the ball and make a play accordingly may become limited. Eye black is meant to prevent this.

Additionally, eye black is flat-out intimidating. Some of the most intimidating players in NFL history like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and John Randle have worn large amounts of eye black. It’s generally accepted that this is an imitation of ‘war paint’ and helps get athletes ready to do battle on the field.

Finally, eye black allows for a degree of personalization to be added to a players’ uniform. Whether that is done through different shapes and styles of eye black application or done through personalized words or numbers on a player’s eye black, it allows players to showcase their personality on the field.

Does Eye Black Work?

The effectiveness of eye black on glare reduction has been hotly debated over the years. Many people think that eye black just looks cool, while others maintain that it gives players a distinct competitive advantage. Who’s right?

There have been several studies done to figure out the effectiveness of eye black. One study done by the Yale Department of Ophthalmology in 2003 found that the use of eye black grease beneath test subjects’ eyes did in fact increase their ability to detect contrast and reduce their sensitivity to glare.

These results compared eye black grease to both antiglare stickers (also commonly used by athletes) and petroleum jelly, finding that the stickers and petroleum jelly did little to change the test subjects’ perception of light.

Another study, done in 2005 by Benjamin Powers suggested that eye black does improve an athlete’s visual capabilities, especially concerning contrast sensitivity. However, the findings went even further than this.

Powers’ study showed that eye black was considerably more effective for females and those with non-blue eyes. In addition, the study showed that eye black was much more effective outdoors than indoors.

So, eye black does seem to work to reduce glare, especially with certain types of eye black and certain users. But if you’re a blue-eyed male playing indoors – you might be better off leaving the eye black at home.

How to Use Eye Black

Eye black might seem pretty straightforward to use, but there are several tips that you should keep in mind depending on the type of eye black that you are using.

If you are using traditional sticks of eye black, it is much like using other such sticks, including glue sticks and lip balm. Simply remove the cap, make sure there is some material sticking out (and use the small wheel on the bottom to push out more material if necessary), and spread the eye black in one smooth motion along your cheekbone.

Generally, the intention is to try to get the eye black to extend from around the nose area to just past the outside of each eye. However, creativity can come into play here as well in creating shapes that fit the athlete’s personality and personal needs.

The other commonly used type of eye black is stickers. These stickers are very easy to apply – simply center them about one inch beneath your eyes along the cheekbones, remove the adhesive, and make sure they stick. All set!

When Did Athletes Begin Using Eye Black?

Even the origin of eye black is something of a historical mystery. For years, the widely repeated story has been that Washington Redskins fullback Andy Farkas was the originator of the practice in 1942.

He reportedly used burnt cork smeared below his eyes to reduce glare. While there is no doubt that Farkas used eye black and perhaps was the one to popularize it, other football players used it before this supposedly historical introduction.

Eye black has been around in college football since at least 1911, where it was first mentioned about the collegiate team from Phillips Andover. It may have originated even before then among baseball players, who still use it today to cut down on glare and better see the baseball.

College players from a variety of teams have been proven to have used eye black between 1911 and 1942, including Illinois, Washington State, Harvard and Yale. These teams not only used burnt cork but also began to use smeared residue from kerosene lamps beneath their eyes.

Again, the intended use was the reduction of glare, but the intimidation factor no doubt played some role in the application.

Different Types of Eye Black

A football player with eye black looking to run the ball up field.

While Andy Farkas and his predecessors used more rudimentary methods of eye black application like burnt cork, the methods today are modern and simplified.

The two main types of eye black are eye black sticks and eye black stickers. The sticks come in a small tube and are the most commonly used. By using eye black sticks, it’s easy to craft a wide variety of looks and to personalize the eye black to fit your personality or play style.

Eye black stickers aren’t as commonly used but allow for an even higher degree of personalization. Keep reading to find out more about personalization and different eye black designs.

Eye Black Designs

Eye black designs vary depending on the type of eye black used, as well as based on the type of player using them. With the stick-based method, it’s typical to apply the eye black in a single strip just below the eyes. However, it can be taken even farther than that.

For example, take legendary Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis – he famously smeared his eye black down from his cheekbones in a wide, downward-facing triangular shape. This extensive eye black covered almost his entire upper cheek area, and no doubt added to his intimidating persona.

With the sticker-based method, athletes can personalize their strips with a wide variety of numbers and words, depending on the rules of their sport or league. Lewis can be used as an example here; In a 2012 game, he put the initials ‘AM’ on his eye stickers to honor deceased Ravens’ owner Art Modell.

Is Eye Black Permanent?

You might wonder if eye black is permanent. After all, it’s smart to make sure you know the long-term ramifications of anything that you put on your skin.

The good news is, there are no permanent effects from wearing eye black, both in the sticker form and the stick form. Both of them are easily removable – keep reading to find out how!

How Do You Remove Eye Black?

Eye black is easily removed, depending on the type that is applied.

For the stick-applied method of eye black where the grease is smeared across your cheekbones, it’s best to follow the directions given on the packaging of the individual product that you use. In general, it’s usually easy to remove the eye black with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

With rubbing alcohol, first, soak a cotton ball in the alcohol. Then, wipe at the eye black in one smooth motion (make sure to keep your eye closed to prevent the alcohol from getting in your eye!), continuing to wipe until the grease completely vanishes from your face.

With soap and water, the process is virtually the same. Get some water nice and warm, mix it with a little bit of soap in your hands, and splash this mixture on your face. Then, rub the eye black with either just your wet hands or a towel to remove it.

For the adhesive sticker material, it simply peels off when pulled! This easy removal process isn’t without its faults, though – these stickers can sometimes come up during sporting events when loosened by sweat. It’s important to monitor these during a game to make sure they are still in place so you can keep your edge.

Is Eye Black Bad for Your Skin?

Eye black isn’t scientifically proven to be bad for your skin. However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry! It’s a good idea to remove eye black as soon as possible after the game or sporting event is over.

Not only does this prevent a mess from being made with the grease smearing on other things like furniture or pillowcases, but it also prevents the grease from potentially clogging any facial pores. Clogging of facial pores could lead to additional skin issues, so it’s best to remove them as soon as possible.

Is Eye Black Toxic?

On the same subject of safety, you may wonder – is eye black toxic? The most common answer is no. Neither the stick-based nor sticker applications of eye black are generally toxic, but it’s always best to check on the packaging of the specific eye black that you use.

Is Eye Black Bad for Acne?

It’s already been established that eye black (specifically the grease-based type) does have the capability to clog pores if it’s left on for too long. The best way to avoid this issue is to promptly remove the eye black.

Otherwise, the skin won’t be able to undergo its natural processes that keep oily skin and acne from developing. Since clogged pores do cause various acne problems, this is something to be aware of when using eye black.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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