On the field and on the court, with entire continents watching and people's literal hopes and dreams hanging in the balance, professional athletes consistently rise above normal human capabilities to perform feats that can seem incomprehensible. Collectively, we happily fork over hard-earned money so that these superstars can rake in millions for providing us with theatrical suspense, drama, and joy.
And yet, for all their superhero feats, why is it that athletes continue to suck at dressing well?
It's no mystery that athletes have been entering the fashion arena for a minute now, and some have found moments of success when navigating these fickle waters. However, the majority of dudes who get paid to play games simply have a tremendously difficult time putting together a stylish, sensible outfit.
To be fair, these guys face more scrutiny than your average world leader, both during and outside of their jobs. Think back to the gear you used to wear proudly and your laughable haircuts, and silently give thanks if these all took place before the proliferation of social media. Imagine if your prom had been broadcast into homes around the world, and your attempts at dressing up for the cameras were immortalized as memes and grabbed spots on "worst dressed" lists. Just think about what fuccboi shit you would've worn to class pictures day or any other "significant" event if you had just signed a contract worth millions at the age of 18.
That’s what being an professional athlete is like—a backward version of having champagne taste on a beer budget: Mall of America food court tastes on a two star Michelin star budget.
Before acquiring Silicon Valley levels of guap though, every athlete starts out in a place not typically known for being on the cutting edge of style—living the American high school and collegiate experience. College athletes are typically draped head-to-toe in whatever brand sponsors their school's athletics program. While that means rare Jordans for some, most are just happy to be able to skip laundry day due to an extra pair of XXXL sweats and a zip-up fleece they grabbed out the locker room. And if you think these guys are going to surf through obscure forums looking for rare Japanese labels and learn the finer points of reverse layering after two-a-days and partying their dicks off instead of playing 2k14 in cozy workout gear (that's free), you might be dumber than this essay's subjects.
The most important point, however, is that once an athlete does make the absurd leap from amateur to professional, they don't follow the same career and style trajectory as regular mortals. The natural progression for us strugboys of the world is to (very) slowly acquire wealth and style. Internships turn into junior positions, which turn into mid management positions. Your weekly paychecks grow incrementally larger through the years. Accordingly, your gear gets nicer, you can afford to test the waters of different trends and style tribes, and eventually you settle upon a path that is uniquely yours.
Professional athletes on the other hand, skip the “I’ll bring home lunch three times a week to save money” lifestyle and go straight to a next level tax bracket. Taste, while highly subjective, is something developed over years of trial and error. Doubt that statement? Just take a painful moment to think about how you dressed in 2004.
Auto-copping sounds like a luxury to us regular folk, but aspirational purchases just don’t exist when you’re making six or seven (or eight) figures. Nothing needs to be lusted over the same way we salivate over something rare on Tumblr. We reblog; they buy. When you skip the stage where you can discern what’s actually hot or not based on personal experience, the next quantitative way to value something is its price tag. And when your entire livelihood is based on extreme confidence, that extends into feeling like you can wear anything as well as do anything. Not so fast, slugger.
That's why we see athletes of various sports rocking the most luxe items all at the same damn time in a post-game presser looking like an ostentatious pile of leather, brand names, and conspicuous consumption. From a general consumer standpoint, fashion has leaked out from its constraints and has entered its concentric cultural circles. Never before have hip-hop and athletics been so entwined with high fashion, and seen as a status symbol that reflects wealth. And if you're in your early 20s and instantly caked yourself into the .01 percent, you're a better man than most if you can stay humble.
Speaking of age, when we laugh at the most recent athlete style fail, we're kind of holding these guys to unfair standards. As a general rule, some of our worst fashion decisions happen from the ages of 16.5 to 23, which happens to be the prime age range of these young ballers. But since most of these dudes have been told that they're gawds from the time they first showed inklings of professional skills at the age of 12, these dudes have no problem flaunting their recent forays into fashion. If you're not face-palming in the future after seeing photos of the way you dressed during this age, then you're just lying to yourself.
At this age, not all athletes have completely grasped that expensive doesn’t always mean good, which is a common train of thought. If you don't do your research, aren't you going to assume that a $27,000 car is inferior to a $90,000 one? These dudes have jobs that simply don't quit. As we said before, they're not reading up on niche Japanese labels and shopping at the best stores in the world. They're training to become world champions. Most of their copping is probably on their phones between game tape sessions. They probably just load up the cart and check out without a second thought.
Lastly, one can't ignore the fact that athletes are physical beasts. My biggest sartorial problem is that I can never find T-shirts in a medium. Can you imagine what it’s like to be Cam Newton or Jimmy Graham trying to cop that perfect white tee? These monstrously sized men have to have custom showers built for them. Chances are they aren't fitting into Band of Outsiders.
In a lot of ways, the paradox of being a stylish athlete while trying to maintain the American ideal of masculinity is telling of society in 2014. We expect flawless performances from these super humans on and off the court, and laugh at them mercilessly when they make a misstep. To hold these unreal expectations is, in a way, more telling of the audience than it is of the performers. Let's be real: athletes should excel on the court and on the field. The most we should hope for beyond that is that their brains aren't banana pudding by the age of 30, and they don't get into a brawl at a strip club in Houston. To expect greatness in the sartorial arena is a huge demand on dudes who are already committing 99 percent of their lives to sport. While we’ll never be able to totally ditch the athlete-as-warriors rhetoric, we can at least accept that they don't have swag out to the next level outside of battle.
Nickolaus Sugai is a copywriter in New York.
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