Hair today, fans gone tomorrow?

  • Written by Ken Karrson




HEADLINE: Hair today, fans gone tomorrow?


            People are fascinated by hair.

            Maybe it’s just an American thing, but there’s no denying the importance of it here in the U.S. The availability of hair-care products is seemingly infinite, gazillions of dollars are spent on them and countless folks devote far more time to working on their coifs than working at their jobs.

            Sometimes fame can be gained from going hairless simply because such a look runs counter to what most of us prefer and thus stands out. Would Michael Jordan have become a household name or Mr. Clean a notable household cleaner without his bald pate as a form of advertisement? Quite possibly not.

            Hair can be unwelcome too if it’s found anywhere but on one’s head, unless we're referring to a man’s chest. Over the years that’s often been thought as a sign of virility, although once those hairs turn gray all bets are off in that department.

            But a woman typically wants hair solely on her head and neither sex is keen about having any that turns two eyebrows into one. And who among us desires even a few strands of hair substituting for parsley as plate garnish at a fine-dining establishment?

            Apparently there’s also one guy who’d prefer to see it removed from the faces of NHL players in the spring. It’d be easy to dismiss this man’s dislike by labeling him some sort of weirdo except for one thing: He’s a very influential weirdo.

            Actually, Mark Lazarus’ feeling about bearded hockey players is quite easy to understand. As chairman of NBC Sports, he has a vested interest in players’ recognition level and, by extension, their potential marketability.

            Lazarus’ network dropped $2 billion -- that’s billion with a “b” -- on the NHL for the sport’s broadcasting rights over a 10-year span. Considering hockey is still seen as a regional sport in some ways, the Blackhawks’ hold over Chicagoans notwithstanding, it’s not at all surprising Lazarus and whoever else has a financial stake in the NHL would want to put the organization’s best face forward.

            But playoff beards have been a tradition for over three decades, dating back to the New York Islanders teams of the early 1980s that won four straight Stanley Cups. At least that’s where credit is given -- or the blame if you’re Mr. Lazarus.

            “Let’s get their faces out there,” Lazarus told one major news outlet. “Let’s talk about how young and attractive they are. I know it’s a tradition and superstition, but I think (the beards) hurt recognition.”

            Maybe, but try telling that to James Harden. The Houston Rockets player was runner-up for the NBA’s MVP award this season, but no one knows him solely because of that; in fact there are probably a number of people who had no idea of how the MVP voting unfolded until it was just mentioned here.

            No, what makes Harden eminently recognizable is a beard that would fit right in with those worn by colonialists. It’s become as much of a trademark for him as the chrome dome was for Jordan and Clean.

            There’s no case of mistaken identity whenever one sees a painting of Jesus, and that pudgy guy who spends his Decembers mingling with reindeer and elves has gotten pretty good mileage out of a face filled of whiskers. So too did our nation's 16th president.

            Some may say Jesus, Saint Nick and Abe Lincoln are exceptions, that beards are the domain of the unkempt and connote an overall unsavory quality. According to Lazarus, hockey players “have a great opportunity with more endorsements or simply more recognition with fans saying, ‘That guy looks like the kid next door,' which many of these guys do.”

            But what if the kid next door chooses to look the way former major-leaguer Johnny Damon did before joining the New York Yankees? With his long hair and shaggy beard, Damon resembled the kind of guy whose mug shot might have appeared on “America’s Most Wanted.”

            At least that’s what we’re told. Somehow I don’t think the Boston Red Sox cared much about Damon's grooming habits while he was helping them win the 2004 World Series. Neither did long-suffering Red Sox fans whose wait for a championship was almost as inexhaustible as that of Cubs fans.

            Although Mark Lazarus isn’t trying to be a stick in the mud, he’s falling into that same trap as so many before him: thinking clean-shaven equates to clean living. It sometimes does, but as many debutantes could verify the biggest wolves are often the ones with every hair in place and none of it on their faces.

            Now let me make clear that Lazarus is not suggesting hockey players are suddenly bad guys because they’re sporting facial foliage. His contention is that they’ll be more appealing to a greater number of fans minus the beards.

            But it really shouldn’t matter because the game ought to be enough of a draw on its own merits. Playoff hockey is, in this humble opinion, the most exciting happening in sports.

How can it not be? Heck, those of us watching are barely able to keep our balance while emptying the contents of an ice tray in our kitchen let alone while skating on a surface covered with ice. These guys are magicians who skate fast enough to get ticketed in a school zone and are also the toughest sons of guns around.

So if hockey somehow fails to connect with enough of an audience to satisfy NBC honchos, I highly doubt being able to see Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane in a less-hirsute state is going to make that much of a difference.

And let’s not forget that even with freshly shaved mugs, hockey players still won’t be all that visible thanks to the helmets and face shields they're required to wear. Lazarus isn’t suggesting that safety gets compromised in the name of promotion, so aren’t we really back at Square 1 regardless of how close athletes get to their razors?

Truth is, broaching a subject like beards and attaching any degree of importance to them seems rather silly. You obviously don’t see the NBA worrying about such trivial matters.

Why just the other day I noticed an important story about LeBron James, one that frankly I was surprised to see because I thought everything that could have possibly been written about him already had been. But I learned that James does not use dye on what little hair he has, a declaration that came straight from his barber’s mouth.

Boy, I can rest easy now knowing the truth about LeBron’s head. And now you can officially call me -- and everyone else who perused the article -- hair-brained.