The Backlash to Cam Newton’s Babushka Exposes a Troubling Double Standard

At just 30 years old, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has already staked his claim as one of the NFL’s most stylish players. Known for his colorful range of headwear—decorated boater hats are a particular favorite—Newton isn’t only breaking records as a star athlete, but has now entered the fashion premier leagues, too. Just take his outfit for this year’s Met Gala: showing up in a dapper double-breasted Prince of Wales check suit by Ralph Lauren, he accessorized with an embroidered cape and a fedora. Against the more sedate style of many of his peers in the world of American football, Newton has always been unafraid to make bolder choices, and the risks have consistently paid off.

Unless, that is, you were asking those who took to social media over the past few days to critique one of his latest ensembles. Speaking at a press conference ahead of his team’s losing game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Newton sported a printed silk Hermès headscarf, tied below the neck and pulled back to reveal his perfectly coiffed hair. The look ended up being widely mocked on Twitter—there were plenty of granny chic references, naturally—but the noise grew increasingly loud following his underwhelming performance in the game.

If we’re approaching it solely from a fashion perspective, Newton’s outfit is actually very on-trend. Many of our most stylish musicians have been rocking the babushka headscarf for months now, from A$AP Rocky to Frank Ocean. And, within the historically masculinist world of hip-hop, men embracing their feminine side through fashion has been slowly—but increasingly—welcomed, whether it’s the lacy blouse and drop earrings worn by Lil B for an appearance on ESPN in 2015, or Young Thug’s iconic Alessandro Trincone dress in the artwork for his 2016 mixtape Jeffery.

So why is the sporting world so averse to a little bit of style exploration here and there? Its biggest names might be held up by fans as paradigms of masculinity, but if you police the rules of menswear as aggressively as Newton’s critics clearly have, it just exposes how fragile those standards are in the first place.

So Cam Newton wants to sport a Thelma & Louise–like take on a silk headscarf, what does it matter to anybody else? At the end of the day—whether he’s on the winning or losing team—it’s just a knee-jerk response to a man being secure enough to experiment with his style. The keyboard warriors can have their say behind closed doors, but Newton’s confidence when it comes to menswear makes is the coolest look of all. Hats (or, more specifically, headscarves) off to him.

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Originally Appeared on Vogue