The New York Times once called it the “most mocked athletic uniform in existence.” High school coaches wail about how its presence drives kids away and negatively impacts the sport.

Nevertheless, the singlet persists. Despite a relatively new NCAA rule that permits wrestlers to wear two-piece uniforms, singlets remain ubiquitous, both on the mat and in pockets of the gay community.

Unsurprisingly, all the complaints about singlets–they’re often derided as too tight and revealing–are exactly why the gays love them.

But first: the wrestlers.

While singlets are synonymous with wrestling today, they’re a new phenomenon. Throughout the early 20th century, wrestlers competed in a variety of different outfits, most of which involved trunks and tights. And to be honest, it’s hard to see how wrestling trunks, which resemble bikinis, are any less gay than singlets.

But trunks are a mainstay in popular culture, probably due to their widespread use in pro wrestling. Many of the industry’s biggest stars–Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and The Rock, just to name three–have pranced around in those little things in front of millions of people.

Scholastic wrestlers, however, are stuck with the singlet. The NCAA banned shirtless wrestling in the mid-1960s, moving to the three-piece uniform, which consisted of tight-fitting trunks made of nylon or wool, full-length tights and a sleeveless shirt that came down to the crotch.

But the three-piece uni didn’t last for long. The singlet, previously banned by the NCAA, became the standard uniform by the early 1970s. Wrestling historian Mark Palmer told The Washington Post the singlet was supposed to prevent uniform malfunctions and “unseemly exposure.”

Ah, the irony: the singlet, which critics say is too skimpy, was actually introduced so wrestlers could cover up. In addition to providing (tight) cover, the singlet also permits referees to see each competitor’s body easily when awarding points or a pin, according to Wikipedia (and, as we know, Wikipedia never lies).

“Back fifty years ago, we didn’t have the Internet,” Palmer told the Post. “We didn’t have social media, which makes all this commenting possible. Now people can complain more easily.”

But we have the Internet now, and the singlet is a controversial piece of attire. Its detractors say the singlet –which The New York Times kindly describes as an “oversized jock strap with suspenders”–represents a huge barrier of entry for high school students who don’t want their junk on display.

“High school coaches consistently feel that it’s a factor,” Elliott Hopkins, the director of the National Federation of State High School Associations,” said in the aforementioned Post story.

Mario Mercado, a marketing exec, told the Times in 2005 he thinks singlets actually prevent TV stations from carrying wrestling matches. “We are a visual generation now. Wrestling needs television, and in order for television to accept wrestling, they need to change that look,” he said.

Despite these complaints, few college wrestling teams have actually moved away from the singlet, though they have the option. A 2020 story about how Maryland’s wrestling team now wears the two-piece and loose fitting shorts mentions the Terps are in the distinct minority when it comes to attire.

Tradition is often too powerful to overcome. “The singlet is the best uniform for wrestling. It’s the difference between wearing board shorts or a speedo for water polo,” a high school coach is quoted as saying in the 2017 Post article.

Much like the speedo, the singlet is also the best uniform for men looking to show off their assets, and that brings us back to the gays. The gays have a distinguished history of co-opting homoerotic sports attire for our own pleasure, most notably the jockstrap.

Throughout the mid-20th century, the jock strap starting appearing in erotic Tom of Finland’s drawings and softcare adult magazines. Now, they’re firmly part of mainstream gay culture. Gay-affiliated fashion brands–Andrew Christian, AussieBum, etc—and mainstream brands like Calvin Klein and Versace all have their own designs.

The singlet isn’t at that level yet, though several gay and kink brands, such as Gruff Pup and Queerks, make them solely for the purpose of gay eroticism.

It’s easy to understand why gays gravitate towards the singlet. It plays to homoerotic fantasies about getting on the mat and grappling with sweaty, athletic studs. Who among us hasn’t dreamed about getting into a little wrestling match with our high school bestie?

There’s also the fact that wrestling itself is kinda gay. The whole sport is predicated on the notion of one man overpowering another, usually by pinning him down, sweating and grunting in the process.

And thanks to the singlet, the alpha men looking to bring us down know exactly where to grab.

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