WTF Fun Fact 13559 – Fun Fact About Football Jersey Numbers

Did you know that some players pick their football jersey numbers based on how slim the number itself might make them look?!

Numbers on a football jersey are more than just identifiers; they may influence our perception of a player’s physique. Recent research from UCLA delves into this intriguing aspect, suggesting that lower jersey numbers might make players appear slimmer.

The Tradition of Football Jersey Numbers

Traditionally, NFL mandated wide receivers to wear numbers between 80 and 89. However, a policy shift in 2004 offered players more flexibility in their choices. Fast forward to 2019, and a significant 80% of wide receivers favored numbers between 10 and 19. Why such a strong shift?

Ladan Shams, a celebrated professor at UCLA in psychology and neuroscience, spearheaded a study to understand this perceptual phenomenon. Published in the PLOS ONE journal, the research comprised two experiments. Observers consistently perceived players donning jerseys numbered 10-19 as slimmer than those in jerseys numbered 80-89, even when the players’ body sizes were identical.

Shams explained, “Numbers written on objects in our daily lives usually represent their magnitude. The higher the number, the bigger the object. Our brains detect and store these statistical associations, which can shape future perception.”

Addressing Skepticism

Considering potential criticisms, the research team conducted a second experiment. There might be a perception that the numeral 8, being wider than 1, could make players appear broader. To counteract this, they used number pairs like 17 and 71, 18 and 81, 19 and 91. The results? Players with higher numbers still appeared huskier, though the effect was slightly muted.

While these perceptions may not directly affect a player’s on-field performance, such biases have wider implications. These biases, often unnoticeable, influence judgments and decisions in everyday life. For instance, implicit biases, rooted in frequently associated negative qualities with a group, can dictate how individuals within that group are treated.

Shams emphasizes the power of representation, “We need to see all kinds of people doing a diverse range of activities. Harnessing the statistical learning ability of our brains can help counteract implicit bias.”

Football, often seen as just a sport, provides a mirror to deeper societal perceptions and biases. While the choice of a jersey number might seem trivial, it offers profound insights into human psychology and perception. As the saying goes, sometimes the details tell the broader story.

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Source: “Lower jersey numbers make football players look thinner” — Science Daily


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