By: Ronnie Kadykowski
While eye black has evolved very little in terms of the materials used, grease remaining a staple over the years and stickers being the only new product introduced in the field, the application of eye black has been modified tremendously over the years, especially in the last decade. Players have gone from single strips of grease under the eyes, to intimidating designs, full-face painting, and even writing on stickers (we know Farkas wearers would never do such a thing). But in recent years, the National Federation for State High School Associations (NFHS) and NCAA have put in place rules to restrict eye black personalization.
As ESPN writer Paul Lukas noted in his 2006 article, personalizing eye black started really gaining momentum around 2004 and 2005. Lukas notes, “It's not clear who was the first player to personalize his eye black stickers. But the trend clearly hit the big time with Reggie Bush, who famously adorned his cheekbones with "619" (his home area code) and "S-E" (for his hometown's southeastern location in San Diego county)... After that, the floodgates opened.”
Since then, players at every level have transformed grease and stickers alike to make various “war-paint-like” designs. Lukas talks briefly about how Major League Baseball and the NFL had instituted rules limiting eye black designs by the time he had written his article. Nevertheless, professional athletes (especially NFL players) continued to come up with new designs that pushed the rules.
In 2010, the NCAA banned the writing of messages on eye black stickers in college football (which was just as well, because we know stickers don’t provide any glare reduction). While that rule change became well known and enforced, a lesser-known rule that went into effect the following year was NFHS Rule 1-5-3c. This rule stated that eye black shading must be applied using a single stroke under the eye and is not to be made into any designs or include any wording.
The rule seems pretty straight forward, but it’s more than two years later and high school athletes in football, baseball, lacrosse and other sports are continuing to sport their favorite eye black designs. Lacrosse has possibly become the best-known sport to go all out on eye black designs, with athletes layering their faces in eye black before every game as if preparing for battle.
Yet, that trend has come under more enforcement this year through state high school athletic associations. While Massachusetts (MIAA) seems to have been ahead of other states (instituting rule 48.2 sometime in the mid 2000s banning excessive eye black), New York and New Jersey put in similar rules this April requiring athletes to place only one strip under the eyes. (It should be noted that the MIAA rule has been modified from only one strip of eye black allowed under the eyes prior to 2010 to “Athletic participants may wear sun glare black only under their eyes” in 2011).
While this “double, double” enforcement by state high school athletic associations may spell toil and trouble for the fun of lacrosse players and other high school athletes nationwide, the art of eye black designs has not been entirely lost. In looking at the most up to date NCAA rules publications for football, baseball, softball, lacrosse (men’s and women’s), and soccer, I found no rules to limit the application of eye black grease. In fact, the only mention of eye black in any of the aforementioned NCAA sports comes in football, where Rule 1-4-6e states, “Any shading under a player’s eyes must be solid black with no words, numbers, logos or other symbols.”
So as long as the eye black is under the eyes, college athletes can continue to have fun with eye black designs until any future rules changes are created. And for high school athletes, check your state high school athletic associations rules and determine how you can wear your eye black – but please, no stickers.