Why Referees Wear Stripes

People, Sports, Traditions
on January 24, 2012

The black-and-white striped shirt worn by sports referees, sometimes referred to as “zebras,” owes its existence to Lloyd Olds (1892-1982), of Ypsilanti, Mich. (pop. 19,435), who conceived the idea in 1920 after officiating a Michigan State-Arizona football game.

During the game, the officials’ all-white uniforms were mistaken for Arizona’s all-white uniforms. So, Olds worked with his friend George Moe, who operated a sporting goods store, to develop a black-and-white striped shirt to avoid confusion on the field. Olds debuted the shirt at a high school basketball tournament in Detroit in 1921, and the uniform caught on with other referees.