Updated: Mar 24
Photo courtesy of the NBA
There is no better feeling than going to the barber shop and getting that fresh cut. For athletes, a new style makes them exude physical and mental confidence. As Celtics’ Jayson Tatum said, “When I get a cut, I think I’m top five.”
“People care about what they look like,” Professor of Psychology at Yale University Marianne LaFrance said. “Their hair is an important component of the impression that other people form on the basis of how people wear their hair and how much care is taken with it. When they can’t adjust their hair, and a big part of it is getting it styled and cut, they feel lousy, tentative (and) disinclined to socialize.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone into quarantine, many athletes grew their hair out. With uncertainty surrounding the world, many didn’t try to get it styled or cut, which made them not feel like themselves.
“I didn’t even feel right,” former Westchester Knicks guard Tyrius Walker said. “I knew other people really weren't going to see it for real, but at the same time, waking up, looking at yourself in the mirror and feeling like ‘this not me.’”
A person’s hair is their identity, and it is one of the first features people see. A bad hair day can drain anyone’s confidence and impact their self-esteem. Keeping it groomed is essential for people to complete their work.
In a study by Yale University researchers, LaFrance said when both men and women remembered, recalled and thought about a good hair day, they had a higher self-esteem versus those who had a bad hair day. As a result, they felt more positive, optimistic and self-confident.
“(A) good hair day (leads) to people feeling more positive, more confident (and) more able to do what they need to do,” LaFrance said.
One of the challenges the NBA overcame in the Orlando bubble was haircuts. The NBA sent seven barbers and three braiders to the bubble to satisfy the needs of its players. While some players declined to go to them, players like Chris Paul and Tatum maximized the hair services.
“That saying, ‘When you look good, you play good,’ I feel like it’s true,” Walker said. “It builds your confidence up. It’s like going to an interview, and you know people are watching you, so you want to look presentable. It turns you up to a whole other level.”
Made popular by Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good” is a mantra that drives athletes to look their best. With social media and photographers at every event, athletes want to look clean if cameras capture them.
“A lot of guys take pride in having a good cut,” said Arthur Knox Jr., who has given haircuts to professional athletes, such as Odell Beckham Jr., Matt Barnes, Vince Carter and Tyrann Mathieu. “When you get to that level, it becomes a job. It’s about being a professional. You want to make sure your appearance is A1.”
Since 2008, Knox Jr. has run his family-owned salon in Phoenix, where he and his fellow barbers created an environment for athletes to be themselves opposed to the notoriety and attention they are usually given.
“They want to come in here and just be one of the fellas,” Knox Jr. said. “You can kind of let your hair down, relax, (and) talk about sports. They just like that environment. It's like a brotherhood.”
One of the toughest things for athletes is finding a solid and consistent barber. Factors that are involved are location, amount charged and the consistency and quality of haircut given. When athletes overcome that, they can build personal relationships with their barber and shop.
“I look at going to a shop like my sanctuary (and) my safe space,” Walker said. “You feel like you could just talk to your barber about real-life situations.
“When you go into a shop, and you see how everybody just loves to just be around people that they don’t even know, but you think you’ve known them for like three years. That’s what makes that shop a better shop.”
Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 502 – Journalism Skills at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at: firstname.lastname@example.org.