Queen Elizabeth once declared, “I take a bath once a month whether I need it or not!” I think everyone in our modern age goes “ewwwww” after reading that sentence, but in the Elizabethan era she was considered the epitome of cleanliness because most people bathed less than ten times a year, if they bathed at all. Then in 1605, Francis Bacon wrote that “cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.” That quote became the oft-repeated, “cleanliness is next to godliness” line that we have all heard since childhood. Ever since then, being clean was very much the thing to do.
So why, oh why do athletes love their stinky gear? They know it is harboring bacteria. They know how unpleasant it feels to put on cold, sweaty equipment. They know it is unhygienic, and can cause staph infections. So why do they do it? Simple – there is something about stink.
I challenge you to find one high schooler who will go to school in stinky clothes, but they will go to practice and open up an equipment bag that is so rancid smelling that passing birds fall dead from the sky. Then they put on that foul smelling gear and play! They know it stinks to high heaven yet they still put it on. Why? Because there is something about stink.
As a former lacrosse player I know all too well the allure of stinky gear. It is a badge of honor, a right of passage, and an on-field weapon. I used to brag that my gear smelled so bad that opposing players would not try to dodge against me, for fear of the stench. One day I went to get my gear bag out of the garage and it was gone. My mother had had enough. She took my shoulder pads, arm pads, gloves, and the bag and stuffed them into the washing machine. I was devastated. Plus, all of my gear felt weird on my body after being pummeled in the dryer, which just added insult to injury.
The next day I dragged my bag to practice, extremely unhappy that all of my gear felt alien on my body. I dressed for practice, started moving, and then something strange happened. I forgot that I was wearing clean, non-smelly, and ill-fitting gear. Eventually the equipment conformed to my body again, and I was playing as well as I usually played. The lightbulb clicked on in my head, I could play with clean gear and still be comfortable!
However, it took some trial-and-error before I figured out the golden rule of equipment washing: air-drying. There is something about putting gear in a dryer that makes it feel funny, especially the gloves. I have found that I can put my shoulder and arm pads in the dryer without ill-effect, but my gloves need to be air dried in order to preserve their “feel.” Last is the helmet, which usually got either a healthy helping of Febreze or wiped down inside and out with Lysol disinfectant wipes.
Over time, practicing and playing with clean equipment became the normal thing to do. I just had to overcome my initial resistance to the idea before realizing that wearing nasty gear made about as much sense as walking the school hallways in clothes from the bottom of my hamper.
To the parents - If your child is hesitant about cleaning their equipment, reiterate to them that playing sports is a privilege, not a right. In order to play they must also be able to keep their own gear clean and smell-free.
To the players - Is it a pain to wash your equipment? Yes. I’m not going to try and spin that chore as being pleasant. Want to know what is more unpleasant? A six-week staph infection that will not go away and requires you to shave your leg to keep the medicated bandage in close contact with your skin. That happened to me my junior year of high school and that really stunk.
Gordon Corsetti is a guest blogger from Atlanta, Georgia. He blogs for Atlanta Youth Lacrosse whenever he is not officiating.