Sporting Black

Dark uniforms may mean more penalties in team sports.

By PT Staff, published on January 1, 1997 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


Thinking of wearing black to that pickup football or hockey game you play on weekends? Think again. While donning dark duds may score you fashion points, outfitting your team in black also may mean suffering the wrath of the ref. A study found that pro hockey teams in black attire incurred 6 percent more penalties over a four-year period than teams that wore colorful gear. In some seasons, this increase translated into an extra two-minute penalty per game.

Just as red sports cars seem to magically attract the attention of state troopers, referees are more likely to notice infractions made by black-garbed players, say psychologists Alan Reifman, Ph.D., and Neil McGillicuddy, Ph.D., of the Research Institute on Addiction, in Buffalo. (This study served as a lightweight diversion from their usual, more sobering research.) Dark uniforms also appear to turn up players' aggression a notch, resulting in well-deserved penalties for hostile acts.

Since aggression is often a plus in sports like hockey and football, might wearing black actually help a team win games? Not necessarily, says Reifman, noting that the benefits might be outweighed by the extra penalties. In any event, the advantages and disadvantages of black uniforms disappear as the fight for a league championship intensifies. Previous studies have shown that subtle factors like color have less influence on our everyday behavior when we're in a high-pressure situation. So Reifman wasn't surprised to find that uniform color made no difference once a hockey team reached the Stanley Cup playoffs.