The historic pink room has been part of college football lore, yet surrounded by controversy.
When you think of possible colors to paint a locker room in a college football stadium, “pink” probably doesn’t top the list. But back in 1979, Iowa coach Hayden Fry, thinking it would give his team a psychological advantage, decided that’s the color that would cover every inch of the visiting team’s locker room. The pastel decor remained year after year, and when Iowa’s Kinnick stadium was remodeled back in 2005, guess what color they went with for the locker room?
Yup. The pink stayed.
However, for a few hours this past Saturday, the room took on a decidedly new décor as the visiting Michigan Wolverines decided that their temporary digs could use an update. So they covered the place in maize and yellow banners, pictures, flags, and printed pro-Michigan slogans.
The prank found its way to Twitter, as all pranks in 2016 inevitably do. The video was shared by an official school account soundtracked by “Hail to the Victors,” UM’s fight song.
Right at home. #GoBlue https://t.co/LALu1eVlyd— Michigan Equipment (@Michigan Equipment) 1478984210.0
It may have been a pretty clever tactic, but wasn’t enough to stave up a monumental upset as Iowa, a 21-point underdog, knocked off #3 Michigan with a last-second field goal, winning 14-13.
But it did get a little more exposure to the pink room, a collegiate relic that’s been surrounded by lore, curiosity, and more than a little controversy.
In the past decade or so, it’s been decried by some as a homophobic, misogynistic attempt at emasculation, a typically arcane tradition towards which fans not only turn a blind eye but embrace. And while it doesn’t seem like a huge leap of logic that a football coach in 1978 would leverage those crass insinuations to mess with a visiting team, the history of Kinnick’s pink locker room isn’t quite so cut-and-dry.
Then-coach Hayden Fry said he picked the color to gain a strategic advantage, but not due to any of the connotations above. Rather, he recalls from his time as a psychology major that the color pink had a calming and passive effect on people. Seeing as how his team would take calm and passive opponents over any other agitated and aggressive ones, they went with pink.
Beyond the psychological reasons given by the coach and the sociocultural ones given by critics, there’s absolutely no debate that the room is incredibly, incredibly ugly. Nauseatingly so. And a nauseous team is a vulnerable team, I suppose.
The school doubled down on the pink aesthetic in the stadium’s recent $88 million renovation, adding pink to brick walls, shower floors, lockers, sinks, and even urinals. Here’s a glimpse of what opposing teams are in for:
As for an official school response, former Iowa University president Sally Mason sidestepped the issue a couple years ago, claiming that she didn’t really have strong feelings for it “one way or the other,” and the cost to change the décor would be prohibitive and wasteful on the heels of a pricey remodel.
Reluctance on the administration’s part to act hasn’t kept opponents from voicing their concern and, in some cases, outrage:
Since people can’t even agree on WHY the locker room is pink, it’s unlikely that much action will be taken to give it an official remodel, though visiting teams could take a cue from Michigan and dress it up however they see fit during their brief residencies.