What is the Black Stuff Under a Football Player's Eyes?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers

The black stuff frequently seen under the eyes of football players is known as eye black and dates to the 1942 Washington Commanders, according to a study conducted by Yale University.

Fullback Andy Farkas was rumored to have come up with the idea of using grease under the eyes during football games. Ever since, youth, college and professional football players can be seen sporting eye black in a variety of ways.

Purpose of Eye Black

Eye black is worn to help reduce the glare caused by sun and stadium lighting. Players believe glare can reduce their athletic performance by reducing contrast between the football and the background of the stadium.

Eye black, especially at the professional football level in the NFL or USFL, is used as a competitive advantage, according to the University of New Hampshire's Inquiry Journal. The dark pigment of eye black is believed to absorb light. Eye black is commonly grease or black adhesive strips.

Player Expression

Many players use eye black as a form of personal expression. Players have used eye black to:

  • Reference Bible passages
  • logos
  • home area codes
  • shout outs

War Paint

Many players have been seen sporting eye black in patterns similar to those used by warriors in ancient Egypt.

Players add a little extra eye black to their faces to create designs and markings, which often are aimed at intimidating opponents. Players might make triangular or tribal designs using the eye black.

Scientific Research

The only scientific study to be conducted to date on the effectiveness of eye black was by Drs. Brian DeBroff and Patricia Pahk at the Yale University School of Medicine. This study was designed to test the benefits of eye black grease and eye black adhesive strips. The study compared eye black with clear petroleum jelly in respect to reducing sun glare and found that eye black grease slightly improved sun glare.

Eye black grease slightly improved sun glare

Adhesive strips and petroleum jelly ​did nothing to help to reduce sun glare​. Regardless of eye black's effectiveness, many players say they wear eye black merely for looks.

Laveranues Coles of the New York Jets says playing without eye black is like playing without a helmet or shoulder pads.