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Joe Pepitone: How to be a jock and still be cool

Joe_Pepitone_Early.jpeg

With the Super Bowl coming up soon... and not having seen a football game since (my faves) the New York Jets beat the (then-Los Angeles) Raiders at the L.A. Coliseum in 1980... the thought hit me... why haven't I cared in so long?

The first thing that came to mind was the attitude that had taken over professional sports by 1980. Sportsmanship itself, and teamwork, seemed to have taken a back seat to overly-aggressive, self-absorbed "I'm Evil" posturing. The word "macho" had come into play, and to be a bully was pretty much the only way to go.  For the most part, I was no longer watching players I could identify with in the least. This didn't seem to be a game; it seemed like war.

This was not the case during the Mid-Century moment. Sure, brute force and masculinity came with the territory, but there were forces at hand turning the tide toward a more benevolent playing field. For one, Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American player in Major Leauge Baseball in 1947, and was a predecessor to the Civil Rights movement. By the early '60s home run sluggers had to step out of the winner's circle, as running, pitching and defense turned baseball into a smarter game. By the second half of the '60s striking players such as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and especially Curt Flood broke the owners' stranglehold on players, and fairness came in the form of a much stronger player's union (and better salaries for the risky life of an athlete).

In the swirl of all this newfound social consciousness, a minor revolution of sorts took place when a 1964 New York Yankees World Series star, first baseman Joe Pepitone, helped to chill out the game with some real swinger vibe. As Bill Chuck of Billy-Ball.com points out; "One writer creatively referred to Pepi as going 'Jackie Robinson and broke baseball's blow-dryer barrier'. He was the first to use a hairdryer and hairspray in the clubhouse, a bastion of macho, homophobic, straight laced athletes. In fact, he may have been the first male athlete to pack a hair dryer and hair spray in his luggage for roadtrips."

A blow-dryer forming the seeds of a revolution? Count me in.  I went out looking for a cool one, and found a nice, metalflake teal job for just under 35 bucks (in appropriate Googie design) called The Infiniti by Conair Cord-Keeper.  I think I'll bring it down to my local YMCA.

Joe Pepitone's obscure legend was more recently referenced in television episodes of both Seinfeld and The Sopranos.  The man and his blow-dryer opened the door for later way-out Playboy antics by New York Jets 1969 Super Bowl hero Joe Namath. By watching the clips below, you can really tell just how much, it was truly, a very different world.

Comments

  • Brian Chidester 4 years ago

    I had no idea where this was going. But a brilliant way to surmise the eventual collapse of sports into machismo and violence. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

  • Chris 4 years ago

    There was nothing like pro football of the late sixties/early seventies. NFL Films had a lot to do with the feel of that era. Players were more committed to a team and there wasn't this chest-pounding arrogance of today's athletes. I'm pretty sure it was Vince Lombardi who told his players, "When you score a touchdown, act like you've been there before." Classic.

  • Jim Cherry, Classic Autos Examiner 4 years ago

    Nice article. Seems like our culture has undergone a general coarsening and this is a part of that. Devo seems more and more to be proven right with their theory of "devolution."

  • David Rothblatt 4 years ago

    I had very long hair when I was a kid and everyone used to call me Pepitone...