Football is a sport with its fair share of controversies. From the debate about helmet-wearing to the recent political discussion surrounding kneeling during the national anthem, there is plenty to argue about when it comes to America’s favorite sport.
However, when you think about football, one of the most interesting things to ponder is actually about the jerseys–that is, why there’s a pretty big controversy regarding crop tops in the sport, and why everyone has such strong feelings about it.
Experts believe that crop tops first appeared on the football field sometime after the 1980s. Many think that Herschel Walker from the University of Georgia was the first to sport the look, as early as 1980. The look became normalized throughout college football by the end of the decade, and a lot of the best players in the sport wore the abs-out look to fit in with the fashion trend, show off their killer bodies, and experience a little more comfort and freedom.
Today, I associate the crop top look with Zeke (Ezekiel Elliott). Since his college days, Ezekiel has unabashedly worn his short jersey to play games, despite whatever response he has gotten. And it may surprise you just how much of a response that’s been–both from those in favor of his look, and those who think it should be banned from football entirely.
The debate about players’ jersey length is surprisingly persistent, and surprisingly controversial. To understand it, it can help to learn about how football players even started wearing crop tops in the first place, and why their crop-top wearing days may have finally reached the end zone.
The Crop Top Controversy
By the 2010s, crop tops had basically disappeared in football. Players returned to wearing full-length jerseys to play the game. However, Ezekiel Elliot decided he wanted to return to the retro style, and during his time playing for Ohio State, the running back brought back the crop top, tucking the lower half of his jersey underneath his shoulder pads. The reason Ezekiel liked the look? It actually helped him play better since he believed that it made him harder to tackle. (I think he also probably just wanted to show off his six-pack abs).
In 2015, while Ezekiel was still playing for the Buckeyes, the NCAA decided to ban the look. Elliott was mildly bummed, calling the rule silly, but still–the ban stuck.
The NCAA felt strongly that the crop top wasn’t appropriate for the football field (and banned it) because it is technically an “illegal equipment issue.” Essentially, they noted that a player in a crop top wasn’t using all of his football equipment in the right, rule-abiding way. Many believe that the NCAA chose to hold to this rule (despite protestations from Ohio State fans) because it merely followed tradition. Players have traditionally worn full-length jerseys, so now they MUST always wear full-length jerseys.
However, those in support of the crop tops feel that it’s overstepping for the NCAA to control what players wear–especially in the rulebooks. To some, the step seems outdated and unnecessary, harkening back to a time when there were far more rigidity and far more rules, and far fewer opportunities for players to be individuals or express their own personalities on the field.
What’s Actually at Stake in the Crop Top Controversy?
The crop top controversy might seem silly, but in reality, it represents a dichotomy in football.
There are the traditionalists, trying to keep the game as it’s always been, trying to resist the pull to evolve as time passes. To them, the crop top is a threat to football itself, and wearing a crop top in games (or even to football events, like the draft) shows disrespect for a historic sport.
On the other hand, there are the progressive football enthusiasts, who know that in order for the sport to remain relevant, exciting, and popular it must change. Not only do uniform rules need to remain fluid and open, but people need to be open to changes about safety and carefulness, especially if everyone wants the sport to remain a viable, playable game in years to come.
The Fashionable Response
While the crop top controversy is loaded when it comes to actually playing football, there are many ways that football crop tops have inspired fashion. For example, the Dallas Cowboys started selling a crop top to fans, even though the jersey isn’t allowed in games. Ezekiel himself continued the fashionable crop top trend off the field, wearing a crop top button-up and suit to the draft; which made some football traditionalists very angry!
Ezekiel Elliot wearing crop tops pic.twitter.com/ULS940k1nJ— Trystan (@TrystanHL) December 27, 2016
Crop Tops Today
With Ezekiel’s sporting of the crop top, a new trend appeared in contemporary fashion: crop tops for males. Men’s fashion companies have started creating and selling crop tops for men, so that men can enjoy the same cool, breezy shirt-wearing experience as women do. Crop tops also give them an opportunity to show off stellar abs. The crop top was big in fashion in the 1980s, thanks to football as well, and now that some football heroes have worn them, they’re back in trendy fashion again, today.
If I had to predict what’s going to happen with the men’s crop top, I’d say that it’s probably going to get bigger–before it dies out. After all, football tends to just be a reflection of American popular culture, and now that full length jerseys are the thing (and crop tops are out), that influence will slowly take effect in culture, too.
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