Here is a brief history of fashion in sports: rich guys wearing fur coats. From Babe Ruth to Magic Johnson to Floyd Mayweather, there's a virtually unbroken line. That's pretty much the entirety of it, although you can also throw in rich guys doing underwear ads, from baseball players in the '70s and '80s (Jim Palmer) to basketball players in the '90s (Michael Jordan) to soccer players in the '00s (David Beckham, Freddie Ljungberg, Cristiano Ronaldo). They weren't trying to influence anyone or present themselves as actual style icons—Joe Namath and Clyde Frazier excluded—they were just rich guys who bought expensive shit. Simple as that.
Those days are over.
If the current intersection of sports and fashion were a real intersection, it would be one of those four-way ones that only has a stop sign on one road, where everyone tries to be all polite and wave the next guy on, which only leads to more accidents. Nothing fatal or anything, just messy ones that end on the side of the road with other drivers slowing and thinking to themselves, "Man, thank fucking god that isn’t me."
By all rights, athletes shouldn't dress any worse than any other celebrity. Yet, they do. Baseball clubhouses in particular are epic clusterfucks of horrible decision-making, one of the last surviving bastions of ove-rlogoed designer apparel and over-stitched denim. It's jarring to see an All-Star who is capable of making the most crucial decisions in an instant on the field apparently unable to do the same when passing a True Religion outlet. Strangely, European soccer players have similar tendencies, only with even worse haircuts.
Meanwhile, NBA players have likely single-handedly shifted sizing at Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and assures they're both constantly sold out of monogrammed dopp kits. And for a bunch of guys known for their court vision, there are an awful lot of glasses out there. Not that they're prescription or anything, otherwise some of them might realize how terrible their outfits actually are.
And hockey players? Yeah, whatever.
It's hard to say what the biggest problem is: that athletes are actually trying to be style icons, or that we're actually pretending this is a thing. Pro athletes should be the last people anyone looks to for style cues, especially the stars. They're not only jocks, but they're jocks with unfettered confidence, tons of free time and virtually unlimited funds (until they retire, anyway). It's not terribly hard to build an outfit when you buy the mall out or show your stylist a shot of Kanye West and say, "Get me that." It's also not hard to wear something awful when you've surrounded yourself with people who wouldn’t dare suggest it.
When they're free to wear—or design—whatever they want, that's where things go completely awry.
Ironically, the true style icons in sports of the past 30 years or so have been the guys who simply didn't give a fuck. Like Rasheed Wallace, who came to games in black Timbs, grey team sweats and a Prada sport beanie that cost more than the rest of his fit combined (and then warmed up in raggedly cut-off cargo sweats, a backwards practice jersey and unstrapped Air Force 1 Hi's). Or, of course, Allen Iverson, who has been rocking triple-XL hoodies and baggy jeans since high school. Someday, if he eats enough, maybe they'll even fit. Also, and this might seem blasphemous to the Four Pins readership, low key props to Tim Duncan for wearing the exact same billowing button-ups since, well, he was born, probably.
The NBA's dress code, implemented by then-commissioner David Stern in 2005, required players to wear "business or conservative attire" when engaging in official league business, like going to and from games or sitting on the bench while inactive, might have actually done more harm than good. Yes, it prevented utter foolishness (see: injured Celtic Joseph Forte legitimately wearing a L.A. Lakers throwback on the bench), but it also hurled a bunch of guys headlong into styles which they had no prior experience with. It's no wonder, then, that they went wild. And given what, say, Russell Westbrook has worn the past few seasons, it's surprising that on his way out David Stern didn't change the language of the law just a little bit. White shirts and khakis only, maybe?
So, while the true icons of the past may have pushed the envelope a bit—think Clyde Frazier and his wild suits—the wannabe icons of today have torn the envelope to bits and set that shit on fire. Pacers forward Paul George has dressed in outfits that Dennis Rodman would think twice about, while the aforementioned Westbrook consistently looks like he just stepped off a yacht from outer space. And it doesn't stop with what they're wearing. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony recently announced he's starting a hat line, which has about as much chance at long term success as a Stetson-run NBA franchise. The awkwardly named EleVen by Venus Williams is still flourishing, but the seven-year-old company doesn't stray far from Venus's tennis roots. And Tony Hawk's eponymous clothing line is strictly department-store fare. As for other NBA player-owned lines, remember TWIsM? Of course you don't.
Granted, this is all not to say that athletes are totally incapable of being stylish. But our best memories of their personal styles tend to be from when they're actually playing. Think, Michael Jordan in his two gold chains in the '85 Dunk Contest, the Fab Five’s baggy shorts and black socks or Ken Griffey Jr.'s signature backwards baseball cap. And this is all because they were operating within certain constraints. When they're free to wear—or design—whatever they want, that's where things go completely awry. And even the biggest fur coat in the world isn't enough to cover it up.
Russ Bengtson is a Senior Staff Writer at Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.