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COMMENTARY: Time to Dress Down Wimbledon

Charles E. Sutton | 7/7/2014, 6:56 a.m.
Courtesy of wimbledon.com

For the most part, I don't have a problem with traditions. I'm involved with all types of traditions — church, family, community and even some personal ones. They're a part of every culture and every person's life.

As we all know, traditions can be very hard to break. They become such a major part of one's culture that the perception is that if you alter or break the tradition, the culture will slowly, but surely, start to erode.

My problem, at least regarding sports, is when traditions cross the line and give birth to rules, many of which have a negative effect. Oftentimes, we research a rule that is seemingly nonsensical, only to discover that it stems from some outdated tradition.

Traditions have their place in our society, but they should never have a detrimental impact on a sport, nor should the rules that these traditions sometimes lead to.

Wimbledon, the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, certainly has its share of traditions, none of which I'm a fan of. The royal patronage, strawberries and cream, sponsor-free courts — all fairly pointless customs. But the one that truly irks me the most: the draconian dress code for the players.

The rule at Wimbledon is that a competitor's attire must be almost entirely white, including undergarments — no, really. There's also a limit on the amount of colored trim on headbands, wristbands, shirts, shorts, socks and shoes.

Last year, seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was told by Wimbledon officials not to wear his preferred sneakers with orange soles. What?! Does the Wimbledon brass think his orange soles give him speed, strength or some supernatural power? No. Their problem was that Federer's soles were not white. Federer, gentleman that he is, acquiesced and wore shoes with white soles.

Really?! C'mon people, it's 2014. A player should be allowed, within reason, to wear they like. A dress code is one thing, but to require a player to be dressed in all white is ridiculous.

Throughout this year's tournament, players intermittently complained about the strict clothing rules, but anything short of an en masse revolt is unlikely to soften Wimbledon rules on game attire. But as more players speak out, their collective voice could spark a movement that may result in a change long overdue.

As trivial as the issue may sound, Wimbledon officials' unyielding stance for something so small is nevertheless mystifying, especially considering no one affected by the tradition seems that keen on adhering to it.

Additionally, there have been plenty instances in sports where longstanding traditions changed over time, many for the better. Just think, Wrigley Field in Chicago went without lights for 61 years. The NFL's regular season was once 12 games long. The Lakers never wore white. Augusta National wouldn't allow blacks as members. Sometimes, change can be good or, in this case, great.

I'm not suggesting that Wimbledon abandon all of its traditions, but relaxing the dress code a bit won't hurt, I'm sure. It's the type of change current fans will welcome and may even attract more fans with the air of rigidity gone. Let's go, Wimbledon. It's time to get in tune with modern culture.