Sunday, February 3, 2013

Apple #623: Do Football Players Shave Their Armpits?

As kick-off time for the Superbowl approaches, I know you're all burning with the same question I have: do football players shave their armpits?

I'm not sure when I first realized that I hadn't seen any armpit hair on a professional football field in a long time, but once the thought occurred to me, I started, well, looking for armpit hair, just to see if I could be proven wrong.  When I wasn't focused on the play and when the underside of some football player's armpit was visible, I didn't notice any.

Which led me to wonder: is this a secret, widespread trend in the sport of football?  Do football players shave their armpits without saying a word about it to anyone?

  • Short answer: yes.
  • First, the evidence:

Chris Hovan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, naked in the pits
(Photo from BearMythology)

Another shot of Chris Hovan
(Photo from BearMythology)

It's hard to be sure, but it looks like Chris Culliver, 49ers, shaves (or waxes)
(from somewhere on ESPN's Uni-Watch page)

Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (retired), apparently does not, but he appears to be naturally light under there.
(Photo from BearMythology)

You might not believe me, but this is Tom Brady, Patriots, with his wife Gisele.  No armpit hair there.
(Photo from Barstool Sports)

Clay Matthews, Packers, totally bare under there
(Photo from

  • Now, for all you ding dongs out there who think that armpit-shaving or -waxing somehow necessarily renders effeminate these enormous football players who make their living out of smashing into other people and throwing them to the dirt, they do this because of the sport.
  • Armpits are pretty important if you're a lineman.  Here are some instructions from various football-playing handbooks, specifically for linebackers:
On blitzing: The goal of the bull rush is not to get around the blocker but to drive the blocker back into the quarterback. By forcing the blocker into the quarterback, the linebacker interrupts the quarterback’s throwing motion, possibly forcing the quarterback to throw before he is ready. As the linebacker reaches the blocker, he drives the palms of both hands into the blocker’s armpits  (Thomas Bass, Football Skills & Drills)
Drill to teach linemen how to drive-block linebackers: On Cadence lineman will attack the playside armpit of the linebacker with his helmet and hands and keeping shoulders parallel to line of scrimmage drive the linebacker backwards. (Eric Freund, Run Blocking Drills)
On executing good zone blocking: Block the linebacker by exploding up through his play side armpit, using a good drive block technique. (Zone Blocking Principles, American Football Monthly)
On how to deliver a reach-rip block: Contact will occur on the second step. On the second step, we allow our covered lineman to use a crossover step to the call side. With the crossover step we have the lineman rip his inside arm through the call side armpit of the defender. We want our covered lineman to lean on the defender after he rips through the armpit and force his stomach up field. We do this to help the uncovered lineman. He will now try to escape for the linebacker. (Doug Schleeman, Zone Blocking)
On delivering rather than taking hits: Drive up through the tackle, putting your chest on the opponent's chest. Your hips should explode forward as you arch your back and lift the opponent off his feet. Shoot your hands through the armpits of your target, squeezing your elbows and pinkie fingers together behind the ball carrier and grabbing the back of his jersey. This arm action prevents the runner from spinning out of your tackle. (How to Take a Hit as a Linebacker in Football)
  • I could quote more, but you get the point:  armpits are an important point of contact for linemen and linebackers--or for anyone blocking or being blocked. 
  • If you've got hair under there, that gives your opponent a really easy (and painful) handle to grab onto, allowing him to become the master of you. 
  • On the other hand, if your armpit is smooth as silk, maybe your opponent's hand or arm will simply slip right off, and then you've got the advantage.
  • This is becoming more of an issue as more players are using modified jerseys.  Over time, the sleeves have gotten shorter and shorter, players have started tucking the excess fabric under their pads, and most recently, some players' jerseys have been made with much wider armpits and hardly any sleeve at all.  Example:

Osi Umeniyiora, NY Giants, wearing one of the cut-away jerseys as he's about to sack Jay Cutler, Bears. Can't tell, but I bet Osi shaves, too.
(AP Photo from ESPN)

  • The reason players are wearing the armpit-exposing jerseys is because sleeves mean more fabric for the opponent to grab onto and use it to sling you to the ground.  Less fabric means there's less for the opponent to grab onto.  It also gives you a freer range of motion.
  • So, as more players are exposing more of their armpits, they're also apparently discovering that not only is the sleeve a handle, but so is the hair. So they're getting rid of that, too.
  • In fact, a lot of running backs shave their entire arms because
    • clean-shaven arms makes it harder for the opponent to get a good grip
    • when they have to tape themselves up, the tape sticks better

Tim Tebow (gag, cough, hack, gag) clearly does not shave.  I rest my case.
(GQ photo from The Berry)

Thomas Bass, Football Skills & Drills, at Human Kinetics
Eric Freund, Run Blocking Drills
Zone Blocking Principles, American Football Monthly, May 2005
Doug Schleeman, Zone Blocking
Jake Landry, How to Take a Hit As a Linebacker in Football,, April 29, 2012
Paul Lukas, Simply stated, these jerseys are the pits, ESPN Page 2, October 21, 2010

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