Men have long shunned pro­tec­tive gear

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - NEIL STEIN­BERG nstein­berg@sun­ | @NeilStein­berg

Al­bert G. Spald­ing was a fine spec­i­men of a man: 6-foot-1 with dark hair and a thick mus­tache. He was also a heck of a pitcher: 47 wins, 12 losses for the Chicago White Stock­ings in 1876.

That’s a lot of games. Most teams only had one pitcher. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Spald­ing’s hands were beat up with “se­vere bruises.”

So Spald­ing no­ticed that Bos­ton first base­man, Charles C. Waite, wore some­thing on his hand — a leather glove that matched his skin tone be­cause he was “ashamed to wear it” and hoped fans wouldn’t no­tice. Men were aghast at the idea of pro­tec­tive equip­ment. In his 1911 book on base­ball, Spald­ing notes the first catcher’s mask was ridiculed as “baby­ish” and “cow­ardly.”

Spurn­ing per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment didn’t be­gin with COVID-19. When you look at the his­tory of PPE, the cur­rent uproar over wear­ing cot­ton face masks is sim­ple to un­der­stand: It’s a guy thing.

Men take risks. A 2012 Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health study found that while tol­er­a­tion of risk has no af­fect on whether women work­ing on farms wore PPE when spread­ing dan­ger­ous pes­ti­cides, it does af­fect whether men do. Men are prone to un­der­es­ti­mate the haz­ard of any ac­tiv­ity and to ex­ag­ger­ate the bother of safety mea­sures, such as seat belts.

Masks are in­deed a bother. Most pro­tec­tive de­vices are. They di­min­ish the plea­sure of an ac­tiv­ity: mo­tor­cy­cle hel­mets and con­doms, for in­stance. Women have an eas­ier time trad­ing com­fort for safety: About 60% of women wear mo­tor­cy­cle hel­mets while barely half of male rid­ers do.

Train­ing helps. Men read­ily wear ear pro­tec­tion on gun ranges. No­body mocks a shooter for ear­muffs. Maybe it’s a nam­ing is­sue. If only gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials dubbed masks “Ra­zor Slim Com­pact Face Pro­tec­tors,” avail­able in “Pu­n­isher Black,” men wouldn’t be so skit­tish about wear­ing them. If only masks cost $200 and were sold in the Orvis cat­a­log, men would line up.

Rules help. Flip through the 25 pages of the Chicago Po­lice Department’s Uni­form and Ap­pear­ance Stan­dards, the word

“MANDA­TORY” in all caps bold­face ap­pears just once. Not in telling of­fi­cers how to cut their hair, but in re­quir­ing soft body ar­mor, an echo of the decades when po­lice unions fought bul­let­proof vests as ex­pen­sive and un­com­fort­able.

In re­al­ity, PPE can be a boon to per­for­mance. Un­til 50 years ago, hockey goalies did not wear masks. Coaches for­bade it, wor­ried it would in­ter­fere with abil­ity to see. Not un­til Mon­treal Cana­di­ens goalie Jacque Plante, his face split open by a slap shot min­utes into the first pe­riod on Nov. 1, 1959, re­turned to the ice after be­ing stitched up wear­ing a mask. He re­fused to play oth­er­wise. It helped that the Cana­di­ens won the Stan­ley Cup that year. Goalies re­al­ized, once they didn’t have to worry about be­ing maimed, they could drop to their knees and do a bet­ter job.

The me­dia also helps. After Sports Il­lus­trated ran its 1970 cover of Red Sox out­fielder Tony Conig­i­laro, his left eye socket shat­tered by a pitch, sud­denly bat­ting hel­mets didn’t seem quite so wimpy.

The strug­gle con­tin­ues. A man as bro­ken as Don­ald Trump shrugs off sci­ence and op­posed masks, nurs­ing his frag­ile mas­culin­ity, even though it con­demned his fol­low­ers to death. When he fi­nally broke down and wore a mask, months late, he had to first as­sem­ble a tableau of gen­er­als be­hind him, as backup. On cue, his en­ablers let out a cheer.

“I don’t wear face masks, but PO­TUS is the only man who can pull it off and still look in­tensely mas­cu­line,” fawned Repub­li­can con­gres­sional can­di­date K.W. Miller of Florida.

Nau­se­at­ing. I don’t mean to in­dict all men. Many men are con­fi­dent enough of their mas­culin­ity that they can do what a sit­u­a­tion calls for — dance, nur­ture chil­dren, wear a mask.

A.G. Spald­ing wore a glove, and was re­lieved to find no one mocked him — out of re­spect, he be­lieved.

“I had been play­ing so long and be­come so well known that the in­no­va­tion seemed rather to evoke sym­pa­thy than hi­lar­ity,” he wrote.

Safety also is good for busi­ness. In 1876, with his brother Wal­ter, Spald­ing opened Amer­ica’s first sport­ing goods store, at 118 W. Ran­dolph St., sell­ing “all kinds of base­ball goods.” Spald­ing gloves are sold to­day. Masks might also be a com­mon­place item some­day. Bet­ter get used to them.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­fused to wear a mask for months when do­ing so would have saved Amer­i­can lives, Neil Stein­berg writes. When he fi­nally broke down, on July 11, he as­sem­bled a team of gen­er­als to stand be­hind him.


For the first cen­tury the game was played, base­ball play­ers didn’t rou­tinely wear bat­ting hel­mets. This 1970 Sports Il­lus­trated cover of Red Sox out­fielder Tony Conig­i­laro helped change that.

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