View Full Version : Hairy issue becomes hot topic

10-17-2006, 04:09 AM
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The NFL does not regulate how long a player can grow his hair -- and courts since the 1970s have said that hair length is a personal choice protected by the U.S. Constitution -- but the interpretation of tackling by the hair dates to 2003.

NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira, in a videotape distributed to the teams and made available to the media, ruled that the hair flowing out of Ricky Williams' helmet was fair game to a tackler after the former Miami back was yanked down by his dreadlocks.

"You've got the hair being pulled, and the locks are like the shirt, I guess," Pereira said in the video. "If you pull the locks, it's OK. If you're going to wear your locks like that, you're the one that's at risk."

The issue remained a hot topic of conversation after Steelers safety Troy Polamalu -- in what he said was a personal first -- was hauled down by his hair during an interception return Sunday against Kansas City. Larry Johnson caught him by the hair and was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his role in a sideline skirmish after the play. The play had no bearing on the game, but it has fanned all sorts of speculation and personal opinions.

From the sports highlight shows to talk radio to YouTube.com, hair was entangled in a debate about personal safety or whether such a play may cost a team a game.

The call, however, was clear in the NFL's eyes.

"It is not a foul to tackle a player by the hair," NFL spokesman Steve Alic said. "A player's hair is considered part of the uniform."

Some teams in other leagues have hair policies, notably the New York Yankees. Pitcher Randy Johnson trimmed his mullet and center fielder Johnny Damon trimmed his mane after agreeing to take George Steinbrenner's money.

Former Pirate Craig Wilson grew his hair to shoulder length in 2004 but trimmed it at the request of the Pirates.

Hair has been a conversation piece for sports figures such as boxing's Don King, Jaromir Jagr in his early days with the Penguins or Ernie Holmes with his arrowhead haircut in his days with the Super Steelers. But those hairstyles were more about appearance than the practicalities of competing.

Polamalu isn't the only NFL player of Samoan heritage with flowing locks. Cincinnati defensive tackle Domata Peko also says he grows his hair long in the warrior tradition of American Samoa, where long hair was considered a practical way to soften the blow from an enemy weapon.

Hair length was never an issue back in the days of a crew-cut Johnny Unitas. But the climate changed after the Beatles came to the states as part of the British invasion of rock groups in 1964. To the consternation of those in the establishment, young men began growing their hair longer and longer.

While there is still some ambiguity about legislating hair length, a number of cases -- some of which reached the U.S. Supreme Court -- have protected those with the hair.

In one landmark case in Texas in 1970, federal judge D.W. Suttle struck down a school district's ban on long hair by declaring that "one's choice of hairstyle is constitutionally protected." The ruling was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

10-17-2006, 08:36 AM
I think hair is fair game when it covers any part of the uniform that could normally be grabbed. If hair was totally off limits and it was covering the middle of a players back, that whole area would essentially be protected and would not be fair to the tackler. My 2 cents!

10-17-2006, 11:55 AM
The tackle by the hair was not the issue, I hate stupid sports comentators! The issue was after he was tackled LJ picked him up by his hair.