Where have all the jockstraps gone?

The stadium scene.
July 22 2005 11:20 AM

Where Have All the Jockstraps Gone?

The decline and fall of the athletic supporter.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.
Click image to expand.

If you're a guy of a certain age, chances are you wouldn't think of hitting the gym without a jockstrap. For the uninitiated, the item known more formally as an "athletic supporter"consists of an elasticized waistband and leg straps connected to a pouch that holds the testicles close to the body. You women can think of it as a sports bra for a guy's balls.

Bike Athletic, the jock's apparent inventor and primary distributor, claims that it has shipped 350 million supporters in the past 130 years. But in recent years, this great elasticized chain binding men across the generations has snapped. At my local gym, I've been horrified to see young guys lifting weights with boxer shorts peeking out from their gym pants. I called Bike to see if my observations reflected a larger truth. "Kids today are not wearing jockstraps," answered spokesperson Jenny Shulman matter-of-factly.

Advertisement

The collapse of this age-old bond between fathers and sons might speak elegiac volumes, except for one thing: Jocks don't do much. Bike claims the contraption was invented in 1874 as "support for the bicycle jockeys riding the cobblestone streets of Boston." The manly wisdom that has prevailed in locker rooms for more than a century is that wearing an athletic supporter protects you from getting a hernia. The doctors I spoke to told me that's "an old athlete's tale."

"They kind of keep the genitalia from flopping around, is the best I could tell you," says Dr. William O. Roberts, a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Jocks offer no protection against the relatively common inguinal hernia, in which a portion of the gut descends through the canal that contains the spermatic cord. They also won't protect you from what's known as a "sports hernia," a painful tearing or weakness of the muscles or tendons in the pubis area that's also known as "athletic pubalgia." (On the other hand, the jockstrap apparently isn't to blame for my high school bout with jock itch. The itching starts when the warm, wet environment down there allows the fungus Trichophyton rubrum to flourish. That can happen jock or no jock.)

Bike doesn't make any hernia claims. Its position is that athletic supporters somehow "fight fatigue" and "prevent strain." Indeed, jockstraps do a fine job of holding your balls out of harm's way and preventing the scrotal sac from getting all (ouch!) tangled up. But while working out in boxer shorts (or stark naked) isn't a good idea, a decent pair of form-fitting briefs will probably do the job just as well.

The best reason to wear an athletic supporter is so you can wear a protective cup. Once again, for the uninitiated: Jockstraps come in two flavors: plain, and a kind of marsupial version that accepts a removable cup made of hard plastic. A well-placed blow in this region is not only agonizing; it can destroy a testicle.

While most boys and men can get by without athletic supporters, a lot more ought to wear cups. Kids these days have helmets for practically everything—I wouldn't be surprised to see my sons wearing them for violin practice. But surprisingly few wear cups for sports, as I make my sons do for Little League and roller hockey. (Note to parents: The narrower ones are less irksome.) They consider cups annoying, and apparently other fellows do, too, which would explain why many eschew them even in situations that would seem to call for Kevlar.

I had heard that NFL players don't wear cups but was still astonished when Joe Skiba, assistant equipment manager of the New York Giants, provided confirmation. "The majority of players feel that less is more, especially padding below the torso," he explained via e-mail. "They feel that it hinders their speed and performance."

Skiba says that many football players now sport a garment called compression shorts. Young amateurs like the shorts, too, even though they cost about twice as much as jocks. According to Bike, which has diversified its athletic undergarment portfolio in these jock-unfriendly times, these stretchy shorts provide support and "steady, uniform pressure" to hold the groin, hamstring, abdomen, and quadriceps muscles in place during "the twisting, stretching and pivoting action of a game or strenuous exercise." They're also supposed to "fight fatigue by helping prevent vascular pooling."

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.