Sunday, February 24, 2013

Apple #626: Abraham Lincoln

What to do an entry on this week?  Choosing the next Pope is still very much in the news, but I already did an entry on that.  The Oscars are tonight, but I already did an entry on that.  Some parts of the country are getting tons of snow (though maybe not record levels), a few people are still wondering why snow storms suddenly have names, while windy March is right around the corner.

I wanted to do an entry on pajamas because I really like them and a nice, fuzzy, flannel topic like that might be just the thing right now, but I already did an entry on those, too.  So what's an Apple Lady to investigate?

We recently celebrated Presidents' Day and I've already done an entry about George Washington, but I haven't done an entry about Abraham Lincoln.  Since I am willing to bet $5,000 that Lincoln wins Best Picture (even though I haven't seen any of the nominees), I think an entry about Abraham Lincoln is in order.

Abraham Lincoln, wondering what the next Daily Apple topic will be
(Image from's rootsweb)

Since we Americans start learning about Lincoln in grade school, I'm going to try to find some little-known facts--or at least things I never knew before.


  • Born February 12, 1809
  • Died April 15, 1865
  • President of the United States 1861-1865

Personal Life

  • We've all heard of that log cabin in Illinois, but Lincoln was actually born in Kentucky. 
  • When he was 8, his family moved to Indiana, and they were essentially squatters, farming the land until his father could afford to buy it.
  • His mother died when he was 9, and he was largely raised by his step-mother, whom he liked.  He also had three step-siblings.
  • It wasn't until he was 21 that his family moved to Illinois.
  • Worked for a time as a pilot on a flatboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans.
  • While he was a Christian, he was never affiliated with any church.
  • He was the first President to wear a beard. (OK, I knew this, but it is kind of surprising when you think of all that facial hair in presidential portraits.)

Abraham Lincoln didn't have a beard until after he became president.  Here he is in 1858.
(Photo from The American Civil War at 150)

  • In 1849, he patented a system to combine buoyancy chambers in steamboats. He is so far the only President to hold a patent.
  •  He had pet dogs, cats, horses, and a pet turkey. 
  • The horse he had when he died was named Old Bob and was part of his funeral procession.
  • His love of horses persisted in spite of having been kicked in the head and knocked unconscious by one at the age of 10.  He had been shouting at the horse, "Git up, you old hussy," when he got kicked.  Except he only got as far as "Git up" when the horse kicked him.  According to biographer Carl Sandburg, when he came to, he finished his sentence and the first words out of his mouth were ". . . you old hussy."
  • He and his wife, Mary Todd, had four children, three of whom died. The only child who lived longer than age 18 was Robert Todd.
  • He was pretty good at wrestling. He lost only one match out of 300.
  • He never actually slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.  While he was president, he used that room as his personal office and meeting-room.

The Lincoln Bedroom, where Lincoln never slept, in 2007.
(Photo from the White House Museum)


  • He served one term in the US House of Representatives as a member of the Whig party -- the only Whig representing Illinois -- and he spoke out against the Mexican-American War.
  • After he left the House, he served as a company attorney and lobbyist for the Illinois Central Railroad.
  • He ran for US Senate twice and was defeated both times.
  • It was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed states to choose whether they would be slave states or free states, that brought about the formation of the Republican Party.  It grew out of the Whig party and coalesced around people who agreed that slavery should not be allowed to expand westward. Lincoln, a moderate opposed to slavery, left the Whigs and joined the Republicans.
  • He was elected President in 1860, and Civil War broke out less than a year later. (OK, I knew this one too, but it's still stunning. Can you imagine, being President for a few months, and then the country splits and starts a war with itself? I would probably soil my undergarments.)
  • Lincoln, however, took action right away.  This is from
He distributed $2,000,000 from the Treasury for war materiel without an appropriation from Congress; he called for 75,000 volunteers into military service without a declaration of war; and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, arresting and imprisoning suspected Confederate sympathizers without a warrant. . . . From all directions, Lincoln faced disparagement and defiance. He was often at odds with his generals, his Cabinet, his party, and a majority of the American people.

Lincoln and General McClellan at Antietam. His coat is looking a bit snug. Looks like he's got a bunch of official documents in his inside pocket.
(Photo from Kiko's House)

  • Meanwhile, as the Civil War was going on, he accomplished a few other things, too.
  • In 1862, he established the US Dept of Agriculture, made it possible for land-grant colleges in states across the US to be formed, he signed the Homestead Act, and the Pacific Railroad Act.
  • In 1863, he signed the National Banking Act, which created a national banking system and established our first paper currency.
  • He also declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
  • There was also that little thing called the Emancipation Proclamation that he issued in January 1863.  It actually didn't have much legal oomph, but it set the stage for the 13th Amendment. 

He's aged a ton here, hasn't he?
(Photo from Entrepreneur)

The 13th Amendment states simply: "Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
(Image from the Library of Congress; see a larger version here
  • Contrary to popular belief, Lincoln did not write the Gettysburg Address on a scrap of paper while riding the train on the way there.  He began crafting it weeks before on White House stationery.  The bunk about the scrap of paper appeared in highly fictionalized article in Scribner's, which was later expanded into a book.  A bunky book, you might say.
  • The day he was shot, April 14, 1865, was Good Friday.  

An artist's rendition of the shooting. After he was shot, he was taken to a house nearby.  The bed was too short for his tall frame, so he was laid on it diagonally and the footboard was removed. 
(Photo from Abraham Lincoln Classroom. Details of his treatment post-shooting from Gizmodo

The chair he sat in at the theatre, his shawl, and his hat are pictured here.
(That photo is (c) Abraham Lincoln Online)

  • The very day he was assassinated, he signed into law a bill that created the Secret Service.  But since the Secret Service's original purpose was to combat widespread counterfeiting and not to protect the President, it wouldn't have done him any good.
  • It was, in fact, counterfeiters who tried to steal his corpse from his tomb in 1876.  They planned to hold his corpse for ransom in exchange for the release of a top counterfeiter from prison. The Secret Service foiled their plot, however.  After that, his body was moved to an unmarked grave and later encased in a steel cage and buried under 10 feet of concrete.
  • He hated to be called "Abe." 

Another young Abraham Lincoln
(Photo from Old Time Radio Catalog)

I've read that the movie deals almost entirely with efforts to pass and ratify the 13th Amendment.  So here's one last little fact for you about good old #13:
  • The last state to ratify was Mississippi in 1995, and technically, it wasn't even done then because they never submitted the proper paperwork to the National Archives. Thanks to the help of an interested lay-historian, the 13th Amendment was finally and officially ratified in Mississippi, the last state of the union to do so, in 2013.

For some factual deviations in the movie, see The Daily Beast

P.S. OK, so I guessed wrong.  Good thing I never actually bet that $5,000.  But he did win Best Actor. And by "he," I kind of mean Lincoln, as much as Daniel Day Lewis.

A Lincoln Library, Facts about Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln
Northern Illinois University Lincoln/Net, Abraham Lincoln Fast Facts, 10 Things You May Not Know About Abraham Lincoln
Chicago Tribune, 10 things you might not know about Abraham Lincoln
The White House, 16. Abraham Lincoln 
National Park Service, Lincoln Home, Lincoln Facts
NPR, Getting The 13th Amendment Passed In Miss., Just A Little Late, February 23, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Apple # 625: How a New Pope is Chosen

For the second time in the life of the Daily Apple, a new Pope of the Catholic church must be chosen.

I didn't do an entry on the topic the first time this came up because a lot of people have really strong, often negative, emotions about the Catholic hierarchy, and the Daily Apple is supposed to be a place to go to get away from stressful topics.  But since the subject has come up twice, and since information is one of the best tools against pretty much all bad things, I've decided to delve into this after all.

Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement and opened a whole new can of fish.
(Photo from Pacific Standard)

Who Decides

  • The only people who have anything to say about who will become Pope are the Cardinals who are members of the College of Cardinals.  Your average everyday Catholic person has no say in the decision whatsoever.

Some of the College of Cardinals: the guys who decide who will be the next Pope.
(Photo from CathNewsUSA)

  • Only cardinals under the age of 80 may vote, and only up to 120 cardinals may vote.  Some sources say there are currently 118 voting-eligible cardinals, others say 117.
    • (One of the Pope's jobs is to keep an eye on the number of cardinals under 80 and appoint more in case the voting-eligible number might drop too low around the time of his death. A bit morbid, isn't it?)
  • Thus, who these cardinals are turns out to be a very big deal.  In 2012, Pope Benedict inducted six new cardinals who were from North America, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This was somewhat radical, considering that the overwhelming majority of cardinals are European, and in particular, Italian.
  • According to the BBC:
Sixty-seven of the current cardinal-electors were appointed by Benedict XVI, and 50 by his predecessor John Paul II. About half (61) are European, and 21 are Italian. There will also be 19 Latin Americans, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 11 Asians and one cardinal from Oceania among the voters.

Gathering to Vote

  • The cardinals have to gather in Rome within 15-20 days of the announcement of the Pope's death.  This time period allows everybody travel time, and it allows for the official 9 days of mourning and all the details of the funeral.
  • Although the 15-20 day period is kind of an open, gathering time, the cardinals are allowed to discuss among themselves who they might like to be the next Pope. This is reportedly a time when a lot of politicking goes on.
  • Since the current Pope is retiring and a mourning period and funeral are not necessary, the 15-20 day period may be reduced.  They'd kind of like to have a new Pope in place before the extensive ceremonies beginning the week before Easter.

John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, recently elevated to Nigerian Archbishop of Abuja, greeting his fellow cardinals.
(Photo from Sierra Express Media)

The Conclave

  • Once all 120-ish cardinals have gathered and the 15-20 days have elapsed, they literally lock themselves into a room.  The word for this part is "conclave," which means locked room. 
  • Absolute secrecy is absolutely required, and the cardinals take an oath to maintain it. There is to be no contact whatsoever with the outside world: no cell phones, no mobile devices,  no radio or television or newspapers, no letters or messages of any kind to anyone outside the room.  Regular sweeps are conducted to ensure the room has not been bugged.  Seriously.
  • If a cardinal breaks the rules of secrecy, he is automatically excommunicated from the church. Not just de-cardinaled, kicked out of the Catholic church entirely. 
  • This is because each cardinal's vote is to be guided by the Holy Spirit and no one and nothing else. 
  • The room where they lock themselves in happens to be the Sistine Chapel. 

The voting cardinals used to sleep here, too, on folding cots. Now they are allowed to sleep in hotel rooms in the Vatican City. Click here for a 360-degree view of the Sistine Chapel. You'll see it's not very big.
(Photo from Our Parish Too)

The Voting Process

  • The dean of the college of cardinals opens the proceedings, reminds everybody of the rules, and so on.  In this case, the current dean is 85 and therefore not eligible. So his second-in-command, a cardinal named Giovanni Battista Re, will do the honors.
  • But the guy who really oversees the works is the Pope's chamberlain, or Camerlengo. He's the guy in charge of handling the funeral and running things in general after the Pope's death but before a new Pope is chosen.  I'm assuming this guy will also be in charge now, but perhaps there could be a change made.
  • The voting process is referred to as "scrutiny," but it's essentially a secret ballot.
  • The first day, they vote once in the afternoon, and every day after that, they vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, until a decision is reached.  
  • After three consecutive days of no decision, they are allowed a break for a day. But then it's back to the voting again. If after 7 more votes, no decision is still reached, they're allowed another break, and so on.
  • Each cardinal is given a rectangular piece of paper with the words Eligo in summum pontificem ("I elect as supreme pontiff") printed at the top. Each cardinal writes the name of his (all cardinals are male) choice on his piece of paper.
  • One at a time, in order of seniority, the cardinals go up to the altar where there is a receptacle with a covering on it.  The cardinal holds up his folded piece of paper to show that he has voted, places his piece of paper on the cover, and uses that to slide his vote into the chalice.

About what the Sistine Chapel with the cardinals in conclave would look like.  All sorts of ceremony surrounds the casting of each of those hundreds of votes at the altar (left).
(Photo from Listverse)

Most sources say the receptacle where the cardinals put their votes is a chalice covered by a paten, but I don't see how 120 votes would fit into a cup. Vatican TV calls the receptacle pictured here an urn and says this is what will be used to hold the votes this time.
(Photo from Vatican TV, sourced from iol news)

Ah, I see.  The LA Times has a really detailed and helpful graphic depicting this entire process, including how the folded votes would fit into a chalice.

  • If a Cardinal is sick, he still has to participate.  He doesn't have to sit in the locked room with everybody else; he can stay in his bed, but he will have to vote and someone from among the voting cardinals will go to his room to collect his vote.
  • The votes are counted by the Pope's chamberlain along with 3 assistants, called scrutineers. 
  • The first assistant shakes the chalice, then transfers the votes to an urn, making sure that the number of votes corresponds to the number of voters.
  • Then the scrutineer draws out the votes one at a time. He looks at it, then scrutineer #2 looks at it, then scrutineer #3 looks at it and finally reads the name aloud. My sources disagree about whether it's one scrutineer who writes down the names on a tally sheet or if all of the cardinals do it, but anyway, the voted-for names get written down and tallied.
  • Scrutineer #3 then runs a threaded needle through the piece of paper--specifically through the Eligo--so that by the end of the process, a kind of necklace of votes is created.
  • After each vote is cast and counted, the rectangular pieces of paper are burned. They used to add wet straw, but now they add special chemicals so that the smoke will be black, meaning no decision has been reached, or no straw & white smoke, meaning a new Pope has been chosen.
    • [Edit: I looked all over for information on what they put in the smoke to make it turn white, and all anybody said was "special chemicals." But as of March 12, 2013, the NYT is saying the Vatican made a statement which details the chemical composition of the smoke:
    • For white smoke, they use potassium chlorate (helps stuff like matches & fireworks burn), milk sugar (lactose, which burns easily), and pine rosin.
    • For black smoke, they use potassium perchlorate (like potassium chlorate but a little less reactive), anthracene (from coal tar), and sulfur.  So the black smoke would be stinky as well as black.]
  • At the election of Pope Benedict, they decided they would also ring the bells of St. Peter's Basilica, just so there was no confusion about whether the smoke was white or black.

When a Pope is to be elected, an extra oven is built and attached to the regular furnace. In this oven (right), the ballots are burned.
(Photo from Smoke Machines)

Temporary scaffolding holds up the special temporary flue that will carry the black or white smoke up and out of the Sistine Chapel. Until the name of the new Pope is announced, this is the only communication allowed with the outside world.
(Photo from Smoke Machines)

White smoke issuing from the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel, announcing the election of a new Pope--in this case, it was Benedict XVI in 2005.
(Photo from The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia)

How the Winner is Determined

  • It used to be that a two-thirds majority vote had to be reached.  With 120 people voting, it can take forever and a day to get that many people (~80) to agree, so this rule has been relaxed a bit.
  • If after 30 ballots have been cast and no decision has been reached, a simple majority only is required (61, assuming 120 people are voting).
In the past, it has often been the case that a particular candidate has had solid majority support but cannot garner the required two-thirds majority, e.g., because he is too conservative to satisfy the more moderate Cardinals. Therefore a compromise candidate is chosen, either an old Pope who will die soon and not do much until the next conclave (which is what was intended with John XXIII!), or someone not so hard-line wins support. The difference now will be that if, in the early ballots, one candidate has strong majority support, there is less incentive for that majority to compromise with the cardinals who are against their candidate and they simply need to sit out 30 ballots to elect their man. This may well see much more "hard-line" Popes being elected. 
  • I don't know how reliable that assessment is.  Mainly it reveals how much politicking can be involved in this process.

Who May Become Pope

  • Theoretically, the cardinals may choose anyone. Well, as long as he's male and baptized in the Catholic church.
  • But he does not have to be a cardinal or a bishop or even a priest.  He can be a layman, and in fact, laymen have in the past been chosen to be Pope.  But since about the 15th century, it is Cardinals who have been chosen.
  • Whoever is chosen is informed of the choice, and he may decline.
  • If he accepts, he is quickly ordained a priest, if necessary.  If he is not a bishop, he is quickly ordained to be one of those, too.  However, from the moment he accepts, he is the Pope.
  • The cardinals pledge their support to him, and they ask him what name he chooses.  Once he says what he wants his Pope-Name to be, the news is then announced to the public: Habemus Papam! (We have a Pope!)

John Paul II, newly announced as Pope in 1978, saying hello.
(AP Photo from Love&Life Centre)

American, Papal Conclave: How Popes are Chosen
Paul McLachlan,, Electing a Pope
John Thavis, Catholic News Service, Election of new pope follows detailed procedure
Quora, Forbes, How Is a New Pope Elected? February 12, 2013
BBCNews, Conclave: How cardinals elect a Pope, February 12, 2013
Wise Geek, How is a New Pope Chosen?
ABC News, How a New Pope Will Be Chosen to Replace Pope Benedict XVI, February 11, 2013
Philip Pullella, Irish Examiner, New pope may be chosen by mid-March, February 18, 2013 

Henry Fountain, Vatican Reveals Recipes for Conclave Smoke, New York Times, March 12, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Apple # 624: Valentine's Day

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.  An entry about Valentine's Day.

Happy Valentine's Day
(Image from Maple North)

The day is not all saccharine sappiness.  At least, its history encompasses a far greater range of emotion than how we currently think of it.

The History -- Juno Februata

  • Long, long ago, in the days of the Roman empire, the Romans used to have a couple of pagan festivals in the middle of February.  
  • On the 14th, they celebrated a feast of Juno called Juno Februata (of February).  She was queen of the Roman gods, and since she was married to Jupiter and had to put up with a lot, she was the goddess of marriage.  

Juno, Roman goddess of marriage, women, and childbirth. That thing on her head means she's queen.
(Photo from Goddess a Day)

  • There were probably various sacrificial rites conducted in Juno's honor.  But the one practice that people describe the most is as follows: young boys (or men) drew names of young girls (or women) from a jar. Whatever girl's name he drew, the two would be paired for the length of the festival.  Something like "going together," I suppose. 
  • Sometimes they stayed paired up for the entire year, until the next name-drawing.  Sometimes the couple fell in love and later married.

The History -- Lupercalia

  • On the 15th of February (some say it lasted from the 13th through the 15th), the Romans celebrated Lupercalia.  Lupercus and Faunus were in charge of agriculture and fertility, and they along with Romulus and Remus were the founders of Rome. 
  • The men got drunk, and then two of their number got naked and sacrificed a goat and a dog. The two pressed the blood from the knives onto their foreheads, then wiped it off entirely on some wool moistened with milk.  Then they cut the goat skin into strips and, naked except for basically their underwear, ran with the strips of goatskin around the outer perimeter of the city.
  • The women would go line up along the perimeter, hoping that they would get scourged by the men with the goat skin as they ran past. 
  • The "goat-skin scourge" was supposed to purify people of curses and bad luck, and promote fertility. Sometimes the women got down to various states of undress so that getting hit with the goat skin would have an even greater effect on their fertility.

A rather tame depiction of Lupercalia
(Image from The Ancient Standard)

  • The entire ceremony, from the sacrificing to the scourging, was "accompanied by much rowdiness and horseplay."  It was enormously popular, and it's one of the pagan festivals that persisted the longest after the changeover to Christianity.  The priests had a really hard time getting people to give this one up.

This might be closer to what Lupercalia was actually like.
(Image from wikinut)

The History -- St. Valentine

  • Fast forward to A.D. times, and we get to the people named Valentine.  There's a lot of confusion about who was St. Valentine and what he did.  A lot of sites say things like "a priest who was a hopeless romantic," and other such nauseating anachronisms.
  • There are actually 3 St. Valentines, and what is known about each of them is rather hazy.  Which may account for some of the confusion about who did what, and what's legend and what's history.  
  • One was a priest in Rome (this is probably the one everyone talks about), one was a bishop in Terni, Italy, and the third was martyred in Africa.  Let's start with the priest in Rome.

St. Valentine is the patron saint of couples either engaged or married, bees and beekeepers, and travelers.
(Image from WhollyRoaminCatholic)

  • Near the end of the Roman empire, the Romans were running out of men to go to the outer edges of the empire and keep the Goths and the Huns etc. at bay. At some point around 270 A.D., the emperor Claudius II decided that the reason more healthy young men didn't want to go off and be soldiers was because they were married and didn't want to leave their wives, or if they did become soldiers, all they did was moon about their wives and they were too weak to fight.  So Cladius II issued a decree that soldier-age men were no longer allowed to get married, and if they did, they'd be executed.
  • Valentine (who was not yet a saint) agreed to marry young couples in secret.  He performed many marriage ceremonies in secret until finally he was found out.  Claudius II had him arrested.

Another depiction of St. Valentine
(Image from WhollyRoaminCatholic)
  • Stories about what happened get a little fanciful and it's hard to sort out history from legend.  Some say Valentine befriended the blind daughter of one of his jailers and cured her of her blindness.  It was this miraculous healing that was one of the things that qualified him for sainthood.
  • Valentine met with the emperor, and some say the two got along great at first, but then either the emperor tried to get Valentine to worship the Roman gods, or else Valentine tried to convert the emperor, but regardless, the two had a falling-out.  Claudius II ordered Valentine to be executed.
  • The legend has it that the blind (or maybe no-longer-blind) jailer's daughter heard that Valentine was to be killed, and she was extremely sad.  Valentine asked his jailer for a pen and paper and he wrote her a little note, probably telling her not to despair, and he said in it, "From your Valentine." 
  • That last bit sounds a lot like someone made it up well after the fact, doesn't it?
  • Well, anyway, Valentine was executed.  In fact he was beaten with clubs and stoned, and then beheaded.  It was the 14th of February.
  • The other guy named Valentine? (probably not the one in Africa) Also executed on February 14.
  • Centuries later, in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared the 14th of February as St. Valentine's feast day.  He did this to try to create a celebration that would be very different in nature than Lupercalia, which was still being celebrated at that time.

The History -- the Middle Ages to the present

Medieval depiction of marriage.  If you wanted to imagine this is St. Valentine conducting a secret marriage, I suppose you could.
(Image from Nights of Passion)

  • Even though people did make the switch from Juno & Lupercal to Valentine, the 14th never quite lost its association with romance and pairing up. 
  • For example, Chaucer linked the 14th to romance in his "Parliament of Fowls" when he wrote ""For this was on St. Valentine's Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate." 
  • The Lupercalian practice of drawing sweethearts' names out of a box seems to have persisted into the Middle Ages.
  • Somehow, by the 18th century, people went from drawing names out of a box to giving each other gifts and tokens of affection on the 14th.
  • In the 1840s, Esther A. Howlanda Mount Holyoke (yes, just like the college) made her own greeting cards decorated with lace and ribbons and birds and cupids.  Other women had been making cards like this for a long time, but she began to make and distribute them on a large scale.  She was, in effect, the first commercial producer of the Valentine's Day greeting card.

Current Valentine's Day Facts

Red roses are among the most popular gifts for Valentine's Day
(Photo from House of Flowers

  • About 100 million roses (most are red) are sold in the US for Valentine's Day each year.
  • About 1 billion cards are exchanged.
  • Women purchase 85% of the Valentine cards; men purchase 73% of the flowers.  
  • Men buy nearly all of the 35 million boxes that are sold for the holiday each year.
  • Each year, about 1,000 Valentine cards are addressed and mailed to Juliet in Verona, where Romeo and Juliet was set.
  • Interesting that all of today's facts about the holiday are not about religion or festivals or gods or God, but rather about stuff you can buy. 

You could always be unconventional and go with tulips.
(Photo from South Bay Buys)

Related entries: Roses, Chocolate, February

The Pagan Library, Lupercalia
Alberta Mildred Franklin, The Lupercalia, Columbia University dissertation, 1921
Arnie Seipel, The Dark Origins of Valentine's Day, NPR, February 13, 2011
Wikipedia, Juno Februata
Encyclopedia Mythica, Juno
Catholic Online, St. Valentine
The Holiday Spot, History of Valentine's Day
St. Valentine's Fun Facts
She Knows, Fun facts about Valentine's Day, February 3, 2009
My Dear Valentine, Valentines [sic] Day Facts

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