Analyzing Hair Pulling in Athletics

Authors: Laura Ruhala, Richard Ruhala, Emerald Alexis, E. Scott Martin

Corresponding Author:
Laura Ruhala, Ph.D.
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Kennesaw State University
1100 S. Marietta Pkwy
Marietta, GA 30060
lruhala@kennesaw.edu
812-589-2982

Dr. Laura Ruhala is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kennesaw State University. Her research topics include biomechanics and engineering pedagogical techniques. She is an active member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education. She enjoys collaborating with her husband and colleague, Dr. Richard Ruhala.

Analyzing Hair Pulling in Athletics

ABSTRACT
This paper investigates biomechanical and ethical issues surrounding long hair in athletics, with a focus on the population of athletes in the National Football League (NFL), the professional organization for American football, who is most affected. Background on the NFL rules regarding player hair length is described. Unlike grabbing a player’s facemask, it is not a penalty to grab and pull hair under certain situations in the NFL. The 2,905 players listed on rosters as of June 2015, are analyzed by their age, NFL units, positions, hair length, and style. Trends in player hair length are illustrated, and it is found that nearly ¾ of players with long hair, defined as long enough to reach their jersey, wear them in a dreadlock style. Three documented case studies of extreme hair pulling incidents by tackling in the NFL are described. A case study of hair tackling in women’s college soccer is also described. An engineering analysis is conducted to estimate the amount of force applied to a player’s hair during an actual NFL hair tackle. The forces are a function of the angle at which the hair is grabbed, and at some angles, the impulsive force applied to a player’s head and neck may exceed 500 pounds. Finally, the ethics behind hair tackles are investigated: both looking at the responsibility of the NFL for its players, as well as player sportsmanship.
Continue reading