- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

It was quite possibly the last true remnant of the Cold War, an unfortunate byproduct of a regrettable era.
Long after the collapse of Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and comedian Yakov Smirnoff's rapid slide into irrelevance, Jaromir Jagr's hairdo a fluffy on top, flowing in back, hockey God cum Eastern bloc Monster of Metal mullet soldiered on, oblivious as an Eastern Island statue to the stylistic sea change all around it.
In fact, it wasn't until the summer of 1999 that the then-Pittsburgh Penguins forward decided to lop his top. Following multiple trips to an Italian barber in Italy, it should be noted the Czech superstar reported to training camp sporting a streamlined new look.
"I think I'm old enough to have short hair now," Jagr told stunned reporters about his first significant trim in 12 years. "No more of the girl stuff."
Yet while Jagr's recent arrival in Washington has been likewise free of the "girl stuff" his current crop is short and sleek the image of his former coif still lingers, a furry, fuzzy reminder of something long suspected but seldom acknowledged: When it comes to bad hair, rock 'n' roll has nothing on sports.
"It's definitely a rock star thing," said Glenn O'Brien, a style advice columnist with GQ magazine. "And it hasn't peaked yet."
Indeed, like a triple-bill of the Backstreet Boys, Flock of Seagulls and Metallica (circa 1990), the sports world teems with outrageously misguided mops, an entire ecosystem of 'dos that are clearly and unequivocally don'ts.
It's New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza, flaunting an 'N Sync-ish, day-glo peroxide trim that seems ripped from the pages of Tiger Beat.
It's 38-year-old Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Rice, mixing cornrows and a shaved scalp in tragically unhip fashion.
It's boxing promoter Don King, forever modeling a toaster-in-the-bathtub, cotton candy-inspired puff.
It's Sacramento Kings forward Scot Pollard, displaying a schizophrenic melange of pointy mutton chops, bushy chin whiskers and high-forehead, rubber band-bound mop top.
It's basketball announcer Marv Albert, whose immaculate hairpiece could likely double as a cobra repellent, resembling nothing so much as a well-groomed mongoose pelt.
"We shouldn't forget Marv," O'Brien said. "I think he proves there's no such thing as a good hairpiece. He's a guy that can really afford the best, and still can't get it right."
A tragic timeline
Like Pollard's 'do, the history of bad sports hair is long, tangled and often accompanied by egregiously ill-conceived facial hair. Though many observers consider it a uniquely modern affliction a rival to Ebola, or Stuart Scott it actually spans decades.
The 1950s Start with the granddaddy of all cranial folly, the Buzz Cut.
A no-nonsense, well-ventilated style that stays out of the eyes and can't be grabbed, pulled or set aflame by a wayward cigarette, the Buzz was in many ways the perfect cut for the postwar era. As such, it was warmly embraced by Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas, young Jack Nicklaus and the entire Alabama football team.
"It's a low-maintenance cut," O'Brien said. "If you're on the road for half the year, it's a pretty safe solution. Cal Ripken looks really good with his silver one."
Beneath that workmanlike veneer, however, hides the Buzz Cut's awful truth: It's not for everyone. In fact, it's hardly for anyone. The reason? Like Torquemada with a Flo-Bee, it exposes flaws better left unseen.
Take former Baltimore lineman Artie Donovan's perma-buzz, which blended badly with the uneven topography of his knobby skull. More recently, consider Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson, who razed his hair before a 1998 U.S. Olympic hockey match and subsequently resembled a prisoner of war.
Then there's former Washington Bullets center Gheorghe Muresan, whose throwback look owed less to Vidal Sassoon than to Mary Shelley.
"Muresan was about as Frankenstein as you can get," O'Brien said. "But maybe it worked for him. It got him into commercials and movies."
The 1960s and 1970s As the nation let its collective hair down in the late '60s and '70s, the sports world followed suit. Strand by overgrown strand.
Long hair blossomed. Afros bloomed. Bill Walton was, well, Bill Walton. In all his fuzzy glory.
It was the era of Rollie Fingers' handlebar moustache, waxed to a 19th-century sheen. Of Pete Rose's flop top, hustling out from beneath his helmet. Of the American Basketball Association, home to a shaggy-haired Larry Brown, a Viking-styled George Karl and the unparalleled Darnell Hillman, owner of the league's biggest 'fro.
Viewed as a whole, it was nothing short of a Hair Quake a seismic cultural event that left no scalp untouched.
"If you looked at videos from then, you'd think they're the ones who are crazy, not the kids with cornrows today," said Georgetown basketball coach Craig Esherick. "You had beards, goatees. People were trying to redefine the Afro."
In addition, David Bowie's bi-level mullet business up top, party in the back hit with the force of a Tsunami, currying favor with relief pitchers and hockey players alike.
"It's an absolutely flawless hair style for any sport, really," said Mark Larson, author of "Hairstyle of the Gods," a definitive history of the mullet. "It allows you to have that powerful Visigoth, Viking look and still sweat. There's really no downside."
The 1980s Washington Redskins running back John Riggins opened the decade with a bang, shaking up the staid NFL with a Repo Man-cum-Last of the Mohicans Mohawk. (Coincidentally, he would presage the emergence of pseudo-sports figure Mr. T.)
"Riggins was really important," O'Brien said. "It was kind of the first great punk statement in sports."
As the Me Decade moved forward, bad sports hair morphed again, mirroring the worst excesses and accessories of its time. Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon commercialized his spiky 'do with a matching corporate headband. Wrestler Hulk Hogan hid his steroid-ravaged scalp under stringy blond locks and a self-promoting Hulkamania bandanna. New York Jets linebacker Mark Gastineau brought a taste of New Jersey into America's collective living room.
"It wasn't just the sack dance and the shaved, bodybuilder chest," said Nick Bakay, a humorist and comedy writer who works with ESPN. "It was that mane of hair. It was irritating. I don't know why you'd want that kind of irritant in a sport where guys can take a million shots at you. But maybe I'm just not man enough."
For sheer bad sports hair brilliance, however, few could match Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth, who melded the mullet and the Mohawk into an signature fashion statement.
" 'The Boz' was legendary," Larson said. "It was like an extended flattop. It really went up in the top, and then it went way down in the back. At one point in our book, we talk about the religious overtones of the mullet it reaches for the heavens, yet is firmly down in the Earth. That's a good example."
The 1990s The Dot-com decade offered more of the same lots more. Pitcher Randy Johnson and Jagr kept the mullet in good standing. Basketball coach Pat Riley, a longtime student at the Joseph Hazelwood School of Cosmetology, inspired a legion of slick-headed imitators (John Calipari, Steve Lavin).
Dennis Rodman happened. And the Afro found its spiritual successor in the high top fade and, later, cornrows.
Lording over it all, however, was a single horrid 'do a hairstyle of such gargantuan wretchedness, of such terrifying magnitude, that even the mighty Boz could only look upon it and despair.
The cut in question? None other than Andre Agassi's rock 'n' roll tennis top, a permed-out, poofed-up Billy Ray Cyrus-shaming mullet that stands as arguably the worst sports hair of all time.
"Agassi's balding, what has he got? His mullet," Larson said. "Eventually, though, he shaved it off. We hold Brooke [Shields] accountable. She claimed to be thrilled."
Shear madness
Why bad sports hair? The answer is as varied as a Rodman dye job.
Some cuts happen by accident, like Sacramento forward Chris Webber's one-game flirtation with cornrows. Others come from benign neglect, such as Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady's greasy comb-over.
"Keady seems like such an honest, straight-ahead guy," Bakay said. "I admire him. But the hair just undercuts the honesty. It must hurt to lacquer that down."
The majority of dodgy sports 'dos, however, are the result of a conscious choice, a deliberate firing of neurons and synapses to produce a single thought: I, Carlos Valderama, look good with an orange Afro.
"It's just fashion," Esherick said. "[People] think it's a way of expressing their individuality. But usually, they're following a trend. It's like when Patrick Ewing started wearing a T-shirt under his jersey. Everyone started doing it."
Sure enough, many preposterous sports haircuts stem from patently careless copycatting. After all, 'dos that work for one athlete look silly on the next.
The Afro fit Dr. J's funky game like a full-length mink coat; by contrast, Scottie Pippen's mid-1990s revival met with considerably less success. And while cornrows gave Allen Iverson an additional measure of street credibility, they hardly did the same for New York Liberty forward Rebecca Lobo.
To repeat: Cornrows on Knicks guard Latrell Sprewell? Yes. Cornrows on Washington Mystics center Tausha Mills? No.
"And I don't think they really work for [Knicks forward] Kurt Thomas," said O'Brien, also a Knicks season ticket-holder. "His eyes are too close together, and with the cornrows it looks like his head is pulled too tight."
Bad sports hair also can be profitable. In a rigid world of uniforms and numbers, helmets and caps, dress codes and Steinbrennerian no-facial hair policies, it's a way of standing out and cashing in.
Again, consider Rodman. Before his Demolition Man 'do, the Worm was utterly forgettable, a rebounding idiot savant. But following his peroxide plunge, he published a pair of best-selling books, married a Playmate and even hosted his own MTV special.
Similarly, golfer John Daly's sunny, shaggy, Golden Retriever-style mullet contributed mightily to his grip-it-and-rip-it appeal.
"Daly's ape drape was pretty bad," O'Brien said. "But in a way, it was endearing. Golf is such an upper-class sport, and to see this mullethead winning the British Open was charmingly populist."
Above all, bad sports hair makes a statement, one that has less to do with fashion than psychology. According to Larson, the mullet and, by extension, all ridiculous sports 'dos continues to thrive for one very good reason.
"It's the special power to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary," he said. "Sports and rock have always been intrinsically linked. And when you come down to it, they're both about power. They're both about knocking it out of the park, crunching the other guy, and rockin' on about being young and powerful forever."
The goatee behind that 97 mph fastball? The Afro that's about to take the soul to the hole? The mullet streaking down the ice? They're all saying the same thing:
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Rock 'n' roll is here to stay.
"Think of all the great relief pitchers," O'Brien said. "Rollie Fingers. Dan Quisenberry. Goose Gossage. From the Fu Manchu to the handlebar, a very, very high percentage of them had some sort of moustache.
"Now, a lot of guys look stupid that way. But a guy like Rollie Fingers his was so elaborate, it spoke of an intensity. It can make you look like a wild man.
"That said, I'm still trying to figure out what's up with [Los Angeles Lakers coach] Phil Jackson's soul patch. He looks awful."

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