Customs
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Dirty Jersey and Trophy Helmet: Sport Customs

A Rugby ritual and a Football tradition as told verbatim by informant:

“One of the team rituals we had playing rugby in college was that we wouldn’t wash our jerseys from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. Um, and so, um, I I don’t know what the why it started but that’s how it was told to me and and uh some people believed it made you look like a rougher tougher team um it certainly made us smell worse. And you know I stuck to that tradition um and you know rugby of course can be a very dirty game and particularly if you play in the rain you’d get incredibly muddy and so you know your shirt you could hang outside if it was really full of mud and then it would dry and cake and you could beat your shirt and get the mud off it but still you had to put it on for the next game, so. I tried to instill a similar tradition uh you know when I played rugby in medical school but the, the other guys weren’t as interested in keeping the tradition. (wife interjects, they both laugh, and he repeats) Some of them did it. It bonds you as a team but also again it was for some players a form of intimidation. If you went out there with a clean jersey you looked like a rookie. But if you went out there with a dirty jersey you looked like you really knew how to play the game.

There was a tradition in football too where in um in football you wear a helmet and in the beginning of the season usually the helmet’s nice and clean, it’s been freshly painted. Well, during the season your goal was to collect as many marks on your helmet as you could uh because we use our helmet to hit people and so you wanted to get scratches and scuff marks and you wanted to get at least a color from every team you played against. It was like a collection of trophies from the other team so you wanted to get a color of every single team you were playing against. And that showed you were always hitting people, that you were a tough guy. And you never wanted the coach to re-paint your helmet during the season. In college it’s a little tougher to do because they wanted to re-paint your your helmet all the time. So literally you had to sometimes take your helmet and keep it with you against team rules so that they wouldn’t paint it. I did it in high school for sure and then I tried to do it as much as I could in college.”

While both customs hold little symbolic or abstract meaning, as the informant suggests the factors of team bonding and intimidation signified by the dirty jerseys and marked up helmets play a big role in physically brutal sports like rugby and football. These traditions provide solidarity while still playing the mental game inherent in any competition. Rugby and football also are particularly dangerous, difficult, and “macho” sports, thus jerseys and helmets function like war-paint in battle, as players animalize themselves in the face of their opponents.

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