Runners, jumpers, tennis players, footballers – they all seem to want to be seen wearing this simple strip of headgear that once was only worn by hippies, rock stars, and freedom fighters. Of course, if you have ever done sport, you’ll know that there are two very good reasons for serious sportsmen and women to wear a headband.

Headbands – What’s The Point?

Firstly, a headband keeps your hair safely behind your face. It’s pretty difficult to score that vital penalty if your mop flops forward just as you are about to boot the ball. Secondly, to keep all that salty sweat from out of your eyes – ouch, that hurts!

As an athlete, you are going to sweat regardless of how much antiperspirant you spray on your body; sport is like that, and there’s no way out of it. Your body overheats and needs to cool down, so your body makes sweat and sometimes lots of it – and there’s nothing worse than an eyeful of sweat just as you are about to serve for match-point.

It’s all about science, really. Headbands work by absorbing that extra sweat in ‘real-time,’ as it’s dripping down from the hair on your forehead – and in sports, like tennis, basketball, and many others, this is a BIG deal because everything is happening so fast. One little blur of vision could mean the difference between winning and losing.

In these days, where hundredths of a second count, there’s no room for concentration breaks in order to wipe the sweat from your troubled brow – and you are using up precious energy whilst opening up chances for error.

Okay, hair and sweat management are two good reasons for headbands, but it can’t just be that. Can it? After all, some sports were being played for hundreds of years before anyone even thought about putting on a headband, and it wasn’t until the late seventies and early eighties that they suddenly began to appear on sporting heads everywhere. Perhaps this was partly due to the rash of sporty hit dance movies like Fame and Flashdance in the early eighties.

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Tennis Players

Tennis has always been a sport that is particularly prone to fashion, so maybe it isn’t that surprising that the headband phenomena seemed to turn up here first. Who could forget the 1981 Wimbledon Men’s Final, where perhaps the two most well-known head-banded heroes of all time, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, fought it out headband-to-headband with McEnroe eventually winning.

And how about the young Andre Agassi’s streaked and teased mullet (actually a wig) and range of funky Day-Glo headbands? Yes, in the words of the theme from Fame (almost): he’s going to live (with that) forever.

More recently, McEnroe’s headband showed up once again like an eighties reminder not to swear at the umpire. Intent perhaps on invoking the Wimbledon champion’s talent rather than his famously short temper, Jamie Murray, brother of Olympic gold medalist Andy, tamed his frizzy hair with a McEnroe trademark red sweatband as he played a doubles match at the French Open.

NBA Headbands

Of course, some sports are more headband prone than others, and tennis is just one example. In America, the NBA has more headband-wearing basketball players than you can shake your finger at.

There’s even a top 10 with Denver Nuggets player, Carmelo Anthony (Melo), coming in at number one. Headband wearing is so prevalent in American basketball that the NBA even banned wearing headbands upside down. Why? Well, the NBA decided to replace all freestyle headbands with an obligatory NBA headband bearing their famous logo.

Some players objected and reversed the NBA headband or even turned it upside down. Of course, the NBA didn’t like that; hence the ban, which has led to some players no longer wearing headbands at all.

Are Football Players Banned From Wearing Headbands?

Football has its fair share of headbanded heroes, too; David Beckham, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Torsten Frings, to name just a few. Beckham has even been known to wear that other type of headband – the Alice Band – onto the pitch. While the Premier League doesn’t ban headbands, Players are permitted to wear headbands during games, but they must match the same colour as their kit and cannot have external branding on them.

Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that wearing a headband can effectively reduce the impact of soccer balls. In a study published in 2003 in the “Journal of Athletic Training,” researchers tested three popular models of a headband and found that the peak force of the soccer ball decreased with their use; saving the headbanded player from possible long-term brain injuries.

Obviously, there are some sports where keeping the sweat out of your eyes is more difficult than others. It’s pretty hard to wipe away the sweat when you have both hands on your bike handles, pedaling along in the Tour de France.

Bicycling around France is a really sweaty business, so there’s a new type of headband on the sweat-reduction scene – the Sweat GutR (in case you wondered, that last part is short for gutter).

GutR Bands

Gutr Headband

The GutR works by re-routing the sweat around the eyes using a gutter-like system on the headband, “dramatically helping bicyclists around the world when it comes to stopping that sweat”. It’s good to see a sport as old as cycling at the cutting edge of headband technology – just make sure that you stay in the lead, though; the GutR channels the excess sweat over the cyclist’s shoulder.

So headbands… a useful piece of sporting attire, or not? They certainly help keep your hair in place and the sweat out of your eyes. They can offer an advertising opportunity that is head and shoulders above most others; even give some protection in some close-contact sports like football.

At anything other than the highest level, it’s more about the look than practicality; but even so, the headband seems here to stay.