The 80’s were a time of change for the NFL. Modeling themselves after the likes of Broadway Joe Namath, whose outsized personality and fashion sense made him a star on and off the field, the crop of star players entering the league wanted to cut their own lane. This meant big personalities, some big penalties, and – in the cases of these three men – some very big sunglasses.
Lawrence Taylor is inarguably one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, with two Super Bowls and a League MVP title in ‘86. When he entered the league in ’81 he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he won the top Defensive Player title the next year too. His ferocity on field was matched by his take-no-shit attitude off field (He famously told Giants head coach Bill Parcells “You either cut me or trade me, but get the fuck off my back”). While he was on top of the game, LT often word big frames (with peripheral vision lenses) when speaking to the media. In hindsight it was probably to hide his bloodshot eyes from the previous nights’ bender.
Jim McMahon came into his own (style) after leaving BYU for the NFL in 1982. The Chicago Bears QB caught flack for wearing headbands on the sidelines and logos on his gear. Imagine that being an issue in 2020! His signature tinted face shield was medically necessary, but also looked very cool. It’s now a part of many players on field kit. It’s the same reason he wore oversized frames off field, most famously in the music video “The Super Bowl Shuffle”. McMahon’s cringe worthy rap skills can be forgiven because The Bears had just completed one of the greatest regular seasons in NFL history and was on the way to winning the championship.
Both men set the stage for Brian Bosworth, whose in-your-face style and antics surpassed them both, even if his injury riddled NFL career fizzled early. In 1987 The Boz signed the biggest rookie contract ever with the Seattle Sea Hawks. His signature mirrored shield frames and spikey hair made him famous quickly (Oakley even pictured him in their advertisements), and just as quickly his career was ended by injury. His look has been endlessly referenced and the 90’s sport aesthetic so popular now can be traced directly back to him.
In 2020, it’s taken for granted that NFL players are fashion plates. They are shopping for sneakers with Complex, on the cover of GQ, and idolized for their fashion choices as much (or more so) than for their on-field prowess. None of this would have been possible without the style statements made (and fines paid for) by the big names of the 80’s.