Sometimes the derivation of words gets lost over time…and sends me down a rabbit hole. I don’t know why I felt the need to research the history of the jockstrap…I just did.
There was a time I would not be caught dead without an athletic supporter once I knew what they were and what they were designed to do. This was not due to the science behind the jockey strap but in response to my naivety in the1960s and certain scare tactics employed to make sure we were wearing them. Our coaches would explain in a very serious and hushed tone, “You do want to have children when you grow up don’t you?” or “If you don’t wear that thing your ding a ling will fall off!” or “If you keep doing that you will go blind!” … oops, the wrong scare tactic. This leads me to the less than extensive research I have done about the athletic supporter or what is known as the jockstrap, jockey strap or just plain ole “jock.”
It would be a logical leap to believe that the athletic supporter became known as a jockey strap because jockeys wore them. Logical yes, but that is not correct. Jockey simply means rider. Jockey straps were invented for Boston bicycle riders and not the diminutive munchkins riding horses in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness.
In 1874, the first jockstrap was invented by Charles Bennett, a worker for Sharp & Smith, a Chicago hosiery company. He created it to remedy what he called “floppy man parts” as cyclists rode over the cobblestone streets of Boston. In their advertisement, our little friends were referred to as “floppy man parts.” There were so many complaints about jiggling jewels the jockey strap was invented to keep our little man friends tucked safely up and out of harm’s way.
I have to digress. The first jockstraps used in team sports was by hockey players, also in 1874. It would 1979 before helmet use would be required in hockey. Took a while to figure out which head was important.
The first jockstrap was a type of bike jockey strap, not to be confused with a type of Bike Jockey Strap. The Bike Company, producer of over three hundred and fifty million jock- straps bought the patent and went into business. If you are thinking there is a tie-in between the Bike Company and bike riders, again you would be wrong. The Number One manufacturer of athletic supporters began life as the Bike Web Company years before.
The lineage of the jock strap likely can be traced back to when Babylonian men “girded their loins” before a battle in the Fertile Crescent some five thousand years ago or as Roman soldiers using a leather belt with flaps hanging over their “danglies” conquered an empire.
The history gets a bit bizarre in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when European men were men and women could not help but notice it. During this time, men liked to flaunt their packages even if their packages were lacking “flaunt-ability” by use of a pouch-like accouterment called the codpiece.
Cod means, and since I really don’t care if this is in good taste or not, scrotum as derived from the Greeks. From this word derives the slightly off-color description, “cod sack.” In some cases, the codpiece was used as a false advertisement somewhat like the modern “Wonder Bra” or “falsie” but stopped short of being like the “fake boob”. Can you really call something like a boob fake? I really need to do some hands-on research on the subject. The codpiece of old gave you an impression of more where there wasn’t necessarily more. It was like driving a big four by four to compensate for certain “little man” inadequacies.
You might have seen codpieces and not known it. They seem to be a part of costumes associated with Heavy Metal bands in the Seventies or singers like Gene Simmons of KISS, along with male ballet dancers. Dancers I understand but who knew singers had to worry about jiggling and flopping. Maybe they reach those high notes by using too tight codpieces or felt a need to be protected from all those teen groupies.
No matter how bizarrely Heavy Metal bands dressed, none were as bizarre as the actual codpieces produced and worn in what I thought was the less brazen period of the fifteen and sixteenth centuries. I was mistaken at least when it came to men. Men adorned the front of their armor or trousers with what resembled…ah…well…very large…erect…man parts. Some were adorned with angry heads resembling serpents, animals and my personal favorite a plumed bird. “Want to touch the birdy? It might chirp at you.”
During the Seventies, the use of jockey straps seemed to decline. It wasn’t that we weren’t still concerned about our little friends or because it was the era of “free love,” it was just that technology had advanced to the point that they weren’t needed as much. Compression shorts, football girdles and baseball sliding shorts all made appearances and kept your man parts out of the way. I have even traded my jock strap for what a female friend of mine calls “Mandex”, compression shorts made from Spandex.
I should point out that I do not run around in Spandex. I have taken the time to look at myself in a mirror, notice what other men my age look like in spandex running or bike shorts and have mandated the use of running shorts over my “Mandex.”
During my years as a football coach, our players wore what were called girdles which resembled the ladies’ apparel of the same name. In addition to keeping our player’s “jewels” in place and out of harm’s way, they had pouches where their hip and thigh pads were inserted. Despite this technological advance, some of our players would still wear jockstraps, some in interesting ways including over their girdle.
When stretching before practice I noticed one of my defensive end’s posterior had pink hearts showing through his white practice pants when he stretched. Because I have an inquiring mind and am easily distracted I could not help wondering why he wore his jock over his girdle and then decided to put his underwear on top before putting on his football pants…I still wonder.
From the book “Floppy Parts” by Don Miller. It can be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM