Why Do Football Players Wear Eye Black? It Isn't Just to Look More Intimidating

Melissa Willets - Author

Jan. 29 2024, Published 11:25 a.m. ET

Tua Tuagovailoa wearing eye black prior to an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 7, 2024
Source: Getty Images

Football players wear a lot more than pads, helmets, mouthguards, and uniforms to play the game. You've probably noticed several other elements of both college and NFL players' attire upon storming the field, from a hand-warming pouch to socks that have to be worn above the knee.

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Some of the aspects of a football player's look are obviously incorporated for function, while others may leave you scratching your head. Like, what is that piece of cloth that hangs down from their rear ends?

Another example is eye black. Is this common addition to what players wear to face off against competitors just to make them look more intimidating?

Well, it turns out that football players wear eye black for very specific reasons. Read on to find out what they are.

Luke Rhodes #46 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates on the sideline during the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 1, 2019
Source: Getty Images
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So, why do football players wear eye black?

For many football players, painting on eye black is part of their routine for every game. Beyond this feature appearing quite scary, frankly, eye black serves a purpose that may give players a little bit of a leg up.

Indeed, eye black painted under the eyes can block both the sun's rays and overhead floodlights in the stadium, eliminating any potential glare and allowing players to see what is going on on the field more clearly.

But that isn't the full story.

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Washington Redskins backfield men during a workout on Nov. 29, 1939.
Source: Getty Images

Andy Farkas (44), Sammy Baugh (33), Frank Filchock (30) and Ernie Pinckert (11) of the Washington Redskins

Football players have been wearing eye black for 80 years — but does it work?

The first known use of eye black was by football player Andy Farkas, #44 of the Washington Redskins, in 1942.

The use of eye black became very common among the football community from that point forward, but whether it works is still up for debate.

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It has been studied and proven that the grease sticks do work for the intended use, but today's eye black stickers are less effective.

Ultimately, it seems that wearing eye black is a personal preference because not all players use it.

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Some players, including Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa have adopted their own interpretation of eye black, and paint crosses on their cheeks using the grease.

"First and foremost, I’d just like to give all the glory to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he declared about the choice, going on to cite scripture.

Former Tennessee Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro said in 2020 that painting a cross on his face was very meaningful for him as well.

"I’ve always wanted to do it, but, you know, all these rules and stuff, I didn't know what you can or cannot do. But it means a lot to me," Kenny explained.

Kenny also said, "Just understanding that I go into battle asking God to watch over me, from the crown of my helmet to the sole of my feet. I say it all the time when I pray. Kind of remind myself it’s already written. Just go out there and play. Go play free. Don’t fear anybody."

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