Why the black grease paint on athletes' faces?

I couldn’t find this in the archives, so I’m sorry if this has already been discussed.

What is the point of the stripe of black paint football (and some baseball) players put on their cheeks?

Whenever I ask someone, they always answer some variation of, “to reduce the glare”.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with catching a glare or reflection off my own face. Could this really be the reason? Do some people get sun glare in their eyes off their own cheeks?

I’ve also been told it absorbs sunlight, keeping it out of a players eyes, but that would require the paint to actually bend the waves of light, in air, before they reach the face.

Is there a legitimate reason for the face paint, or is it “they do it ‘cause they’ve always done it”.

Well, that is the reason, because it reduces the glare. Reducing the glare allows you to see the ball better, by improving your perception of detail and contrast.

When outfielder Billy Sample retired from the TExas Rangers, he wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated, listing the things he WOULDN’T miss about baseball. One of them was “Those moments when you’ve lost a fly ball in the sun, it’s coming right at you, and you realize once again that the burnt cork around your eyes is really just for show.”

I played football in high school and I’m not buying the glare reason. Its just more intimidating for an opposing lineman to look into a face with war paint. Thats why the popularity of this practice is highest in football and particularly with linemen.

When I was pretty much a rookie sports writer for the Rocky Mountain News back in late 60s or early 70s I interviewed a very well-spoken professional football lineman and he said while in theory the idea was to reduce glare, to many of those in pro football it was similar to putting on war paint. He said to a certain extent it gave them another persona with which to confront the enemy.

I guess my problem with this explanation is, how could a stripe of black paint on the cheek reduce glare in the eye?

What glare are they talking about, reflected light from the cheek, or the light coming directly from the sun (or stadium lights)?

As I wrote in my initial post, I’ve never had light bouncing off my cheek get in my eyes, and I don’t understand how a stripe of black on the cheek could reduce the perceived brightness of light traveling from a source to an eye.

I’m going with the “war paint, intimidation” answer for now…

This is an abstract from an article in the July 2003 issue of the Archivel of Opthamology which is titled: “The Ability of Periorbitally Applied Antiglare Products to Improve Contrast Sensitivity in Conditions of Sunlight Exposure.”

It’s the study mentioned in the Yale article I referenced above.

Their conclusion: “Eye black grease reduces glare and improves contrast sensitivity in conditions of sunlight exposure compared with the control and antiglare stickers in binocular testing.”

You can pay $12 and read the entire article, if you like. I don’t know if the article says HOW it works, but the experiment shows that it works.

I read the abstract and couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but I guess it’s pretty legit. It doesn’t seem intuitive (at least to me) that grease paint should really work, but, we could fill a stadium with what I don’t understand.

There was room for error, I mean it was ± 0.14 logMAR units, after all. :wink:

So, now, tell me why a black athelete would need it? :confused:

I’m guessing that skin is reflective, regardless of the color. The greasepaint is not only black but non-glare.

Actually, the paint athletes wear is pretty shiny, at least shinier than natural (non-sweaty) skin. I would guess that flat black would work better than gloss, but it’s probably pretty tough to make flat grease paint.

[indent][indent][indent]They want to look like Marilyn Manson.[/indent][/indent][/indent]

I don’t think it’s actually greasepaint. The traditional material is soot, but now you can get little stick-on things that do the same thing.

No, they don’t do the same thing according to my link.

One of the West Indian cricketers (Chanderpaul) usually bats with a sticker beneath each eye. I heard the commentator say that it’s for glare reduction. In his case though they also double up as advertising logos.

While playing baseball I would experiment with the black paint, and it definitely works. The area below your eyes reflects light up into the eys. To test for yourself, go into the sun and look out into the distance, and then put your index fingers just below your eyes. You will see that it is definitely easier to see with your fingers blocking off the area below your eyes.

Not sure if it will help the discussion any, but IIRC, various great cats of Africa (cheetah, etc.) have these sorts of dark spots under their eyes for this very purpose. ISTR a Nat. Geographic article detailing how African tribesmen took the practice from them and it eventually ended up in pro sports. Then again, it might have been Highlights magazine or the Sports Section for all I know.

I’m pretty sure there’s still a large physcological aspect to it. You’d think as far as reducing glare goes that painting your whole nose black would reduce glare a lot more than a couple strips under the eyes (close one eye at a time and notice how much of your nose you can see). But that would just look silly, wouldn’t it?.. but under the eyes, well, that makes you look like a tough guy :wink: .

As swimmers we used to shave off a lot of our body hair in the hope it would improve our swim times. It probably didn’t, but if it made us think it did. I bet there’s a scientific study out there somewhere to substantiate the practice, but really…

If you’re an olympic class swimmer you either swim 1/100th of a second faster or you don’t. If you’re a football player you either catch the ball or you don’t. I doubt shaving or grease paint really make much more than a psychological difference.

That said, if I were in the olympics/major leagues, I’d try anything that might help. Every athlete has a favorite color to wear, lucky charm, favorite jock strap/sports bra/pair of shoes, etc., etc.

Heh. That I’d like to see.