So you weren’t crazy about Super Bowl hero Cooper Kupp’s messy whiskers? Neither does his family, apparently.
“I don’t know what’s going on with the beard,” Craig Kupp, the father of the Los Angeles Rams wide receiver who was named Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl LVI last Sunday, told The Tacoma News Tribune in December. “I’m not a big fan.”
But the results are hard to argue with. The 28-year-old wideout, once an unheralded third-round draft pick from Eastern Washington University, known for his clean, chorus-clunk looks, had his blonde kinfuzz explode over the course of last season, emerging along the way in an unstoppable NFL armed forces. He not only dominated the league’s biggest podium, but also became the first player since 2005 to take home the so-called triple crown for receivers. He led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
According to a recent Sports Illustrated article, he went full-on with Grizzly Adams this year simply because he was doing a good job, promising skeptical relatives that he would shave as soon as he had a bad match.
The problem was, as his grandmother Carla Kupp noted late in the season, “he hasn’t had one.”
Call it superstition. Call it coincidence. Call it a fashion statement to stand out as an alpha male among alpha males. But Mr Kupp, 28, isn’t the first athlete to take his public profile, and seemingly his game, to the next level while ditching the beard trimmers.
Think of it as the James Harden effect. Player X is good. Player X grows a crazy beard. Player X is suddenly awesome. Strange, right?
At least that was the image of Mr. Harden, who made nearly as many headlines as Mr. Kupp last week after a blockbuster with the Philadelphia 76ers of the Nets. Mr. Harden began his career in 2009 with a neatly trimmed beard that would barely qualify him for a barista job in Brooklyn and spent his early years as the sixth man, coming off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder behind his star teammates, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
However, as Mr. Harden’s beard grew, so did his basketball superpowers (or vice versa), as he transitioned to the Houston Rockets and became a cornerstone of the franchise. He won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2018 and, perhaps not coincidentally, became a GQ cover model with his signature Santa Claus scale beard, making him a triumph of personal branding for fans who ‘Fear the Beard’. wore T-shirts.
A coincidence? Secure. It wasn’t Mr. Harden’s beard that dried the three-pointers. Still, an impressive beard can have a powerful semiotic function for a male athlete — or perhaps any man — bidding for top dog status.
Some research has shown that men with beards are seen as having a higher status than their clean-shaven counterparts, as well as being more aggressive, which is certainly not the worst connotation for a modern-day gladiator. A 2016 study from the University of Queensland in Australia collected data from more than 8,500 women and concluded that a full beard “indicates a man’s ability to compete for resources”, which is helpful in finding a mate. but may not apply when resources are touchdowns.
Do you doubt the magical properties of a sports beard? See what happens when they disappear. Fans in barbecue country were stunned when the Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end, Travis Kelce, a seven-time Pro Bowler, showed up at training camp with a close shave last summer. (“Travis Kelce shaved his beard and lost all his beard” rhythm and soulJosh Sánchez, a sportswriter, wrote on Twitter.) Indeed, Mr. Kelce’s season was a bit shaky due to his high standards, inspiring headlines like “What’s wrong with Travis Kelce?”
It’s apparently best not to anger the gods of facial hair. Take Ryan Fitzpatrick, the well-traveled NFL quarterback. His aura as a would-be sharpshooter — a fearless passerby seemingly oblivious to risk — seemed to grow with every inch of his prodigious mane over the years. Mr. Fitzpatrick himself has acknowledged that his monster beard is central to his image as the man behind the teeth-grinding feats of the fourth quarter known as “Fitzmagic.”
An outlaw beard makes an even louder statement in the relatively genteel sport of baseball, where the megabeard has taken on a talismanic connotation for some players. Brian Wilson, the former assistant pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, went from a not-the-Beach-Boys man to a celebrated hit man after taking on the intimidating Blackbeard look en route to World Series glory.
In 2016, ESPN tracked the rise of former Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta from clean-shaven coworker to Cy Young Award winner, as a step-by-step retrospective on his growing facial hair. Justin Turner, the trailing third baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, appeared to transform from Everyman to Superman when he took on a blast of ginger whiskers that made him look like a berzerker emerging from a tall Viking ship.
Can beard magic work for entire teams? The 2013 Red Sox forged an identity and, apparently, a spirit of unity by adopting groundbreaking beards as “not just a fashion accessory,” as DailyExpertNews reported at the time, but as “a way to build stronger bonds.” after the Red Sox battle last season,” when the team finished in last place in the American League East.
Hey, they won the World Series that year.