The NFL confronts another hairy issue   

Updated: March 31, 2008, 9:12 AM ET

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One of my favorite scenes from the movie "Waiting to Exhale" is when Angela Bassett's character, wrestling with her divorce, gets into a confrontation with her hairstylist.

She wants to cut off her hair.

The beautician refuses, saying she's been growing it for 11 years and she shouldn't hack it off just because her man left her. Angela then grabs the shears and starts snipping away herself.

The metaphorical scene is supposed to represent Angela's character freeing herself from her past. But then she spends the next hour or so still being bitter, illustrating that the character might look different on the outside but girlfriend ain't changed much on the inside.

To me, this is the heart of the hair discussion in the NFL. The league will vote next week on whether to require players with long hair to keep it tucked under their helmets, a measure originally proposed by the Kansas City Chiefs. I guess if we don't see the long hair, you don't have long hair -- and we all know long hair on a man means nothing but trouble. That's why guys such as Michael Vick, Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson all cut their hair before their day in court.

"You see, your honor, I was a bad man before, that's why I had long hair. But I'm all better now; see, my head is clean shaven."

Never mind that Britney Spears shaved off all her hair months ago and she's still acting crazy today. Or that players wear their hair long for reasons beyond fashion or to be rebellious. For example, Pittsburgh Troy Polamalu does it as a tribute to his Samoan heritage and Jacksonville's Lamont Thompson as a way to remind himself to be patient. And as a man who has grown locks twice in my life, I can tell you starting them can be very spiritual and maintaining them a source of pride. Like fingerprints and DNA, no two heads of locks are exactly the same.

The Bible speaks of knowing the true nature of a tree by its fruit. Hanging oranges from an apple tree does not transform the tree, and adopting the look of a stereotypical upstanding citizen will not transform you into one. Character is internal, not external.

The NFL has couched this discussion as a uniform issue, prohibiting a player from wearing hair long enough to obscure his name on the back of his jersey. But I don't buy it. If the Chiefs and NFL were so concerned about long hair, they should have brought this topic up two years ago after Larry Johnson horse-tackled Polamalu by the mane to save a touchdown.

No, I see it as another way to make corporations comfortable about the NFL because its image has taken a severe hit the past couple of seasons. Whitewash the personality so that the product is more palatable to a broader audience. I didn't mean that as a racial pun, though I can certainly see why some would see this initiative as a racial attack. Dreadlocks tend to be thicker than other hairstyles and thus more difficult to tuck in confined spaces like football helmets. But I don't see it as a racial issue as much as a generational one. It's like Elvis Presley shaking his hips all over again -- a new-school world being run by old-school sensibilities.

Well, I like the touchdown celebrations. And tributes to loved ones who have passed. And I like the long hair.

Yes, the No Fun League is at it again.

LZ Granderson is a Page 2 columnist and a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine, as well as a regular on ESPN's "First Take." He's also host of the Page 2 video series, "LZ's Cafe." He can be reached at


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