Athletes express team unity through hairstyles

Mitchell McMillen | The Chronicle

When sophomore Colin Keough steps onto the ice for the Mason High School hockey team, he and his teammates are sharing more than just a jersey.

Keough and several of his teammates don long-flowing mullets. Keough acknowledges his mullet fits a stereotype, but chooses to embrace the identity.

“I chose my hair because when you watch any hockey movie, that’s the hairstyle you see,” Keough said. “That’s the stereotypical hairstyle for most hockey athletes. It gives me a sense of commitment to the game.”

Legendary NHL figures including Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Barry Melrose have helped cement the hairstyle into the fabric of hockey culture. Hockey players even coined the term “letty”, short for lettuce hair, to describe hair flowing out of the back of their helmets.

Juniors Max Kennedy (#14) and Kieran Rodway (#2) let their long hair
flow on the ice for the Mason Ice Hockey team.

Hair is often seen as a reflection of a person’s identity and sense of self. Personality, cultural upbringing, and religion can all be conveyed through hair. 

Sports provide means to further the use of hair as a form of expression. During competition, athletes are limited in expression as certain uniforms must be worn and speech is limited. 

Mullets are popular amongst athletes in sports like hockey and lacrosse because hair can flow out of the back of helmets and be easily visible.

Keough said his hair allows him to feel more unified with his team and the hockey community. 

“With everyone having some letty it does give me a sense of team pride,” Keough said. “Knowing that I am not alone with my hairstyle and that there are thousands of other kids with the same hairstyle as me.”

Every year, the Mason High School boys swimming team bleaches their hair entering the postseason. The tradition goes as far back as 20 years ago when Coach Sullivan joined as head coach of the team. 

Senior swimmer Tyler Houpt said swimmers from across the area and even the state have joined in on the tradition.

“From what I understand it’s been going on forever,” Houpt said. “A lot of teams do it, not just Mason. All of the GMC does it and of course the state too.”

Houpt said that by seeing his teammates and fellow swimmers with the same hairstyle, he feels a sense of unity.

“It adds to the swimming experience by uniting us all because we’re all very individualistic,” Houpt said. “It installs a team and a sport in general because, as a team, we all go together to bleach our hair. Everyone’s bleaching their hair together so you can recognize, oh they swim.”

Tyler Houpt displays bleached hair
at 2023 OHSAA swim and dive

Many sports require head coverings like helmets or caps, but athletes in those sports have not let that prevent them from having fun with their hair. 

Houpt believes that wearing swim caps during competition doesn’t hinder the team’s shared hair color and sense of togetherness, instead, it furthers it.

“The idea that we cover our hair while we swim makes it very much like you’re one team,” Houpt said. “The idea to bleach our hair is to look very similar as well. By bleaching our hair, we’re still part of that one team, one mentality that we have when we’re in the pool.”