The NFL's on-field dress code is so stringent that players are often fined even if they wear the wrong color socks. But once they strip off their jerseys, they're free to express themselves -- people are starting to take notice.
Over the last several years, the NFL -- an unwavering symbol of machismo throughout America -- has started making inroads in the fashion world. The league has partnered with Levi's recently to create licensed fan apparel and operates a clothing line of its own. In today's age where a player's every moment can be chronicled on social media, it's important for an athlete to look like a star once he takes off his uniform, too.
"Matriculating through the fashion space opens up opportunities for players to capture a new audience of marketing executives and brand decision makers they may not have in other settings," says Jace Lipstein, a stylist for the NFL's fashion lifestyle campaign, via Racked.com. "The ability to connect and collaborate with [the fashion community] can have a profound effect on the brand of an NFL athlete."
Though the NFL is the most popular sports league in America, its players often lag behind stars in other sports when it comes to endorsement contracts. According to Forbes, Peyton Manning led the league in endorsement dollars last year, raking in $12 million. For comparison's sake, Forbes calculates LeBron James' endorsement earnings at nearly $50 million.
To close the gap, an increasing number of players are turning to photo shoots and fashion shows in order to assert themselves off the field. No one in the NFL has the eclectic style of the NBA's Russell Westbrook, but five football players have managed to stand above everybody else:
Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham's incredible one-handed touchdown grab against the Dallas Cowboys two years ago may have produced the most memorable photograph in recent NFL history, but that's not the only picture of the New York Giants wide receiver that garnered a lot of attention.
Beckham took part in a photo shoot for Vogue in September, posing in the magazine's revealing "towel series."
Beckham was also spotted at the swanky Met Gala last month, hanging with Kate Upton, Derek Jeter and Giants defensive end-turned-television star Michael Strahan.
Beckham is one of the flashiest players in the game today, and seems destined to carry that panache over into the world of fashion and entertainment.
Beckham's veteran teammate has acquired a lot of modeling experience over the last couple of years. He starred in a Givenchy advertising campaign in 2015 and was photographed for Gap Factory's 2014 holiday campaign. Last year, Cruz also released a capsule collection with the boutique denim label 3x1.
With our #VictorCruz capsule collection launching soon – throwing it back to our #Southampton celebration. #tbt pic.twitter.com/T1FpV7KPjv— 3x1 (@3x1) October 22, 2015
As an ambassador for the first ever New York Men's Fashion Week, Cruz's credentials are legit.
The face of the NFL's new fashion campaign is a 5'10 wide receiver who was selected in the final round of the draft in 2009. Over the last couple of years, Edelman has emerged as Tom Brady's favorite target -- and one of the most stylish players in the league.
Edelman, 30, attended New York Fashion Week this year, sitting in the front row. He's recently launched his own JE11 Brand -- not all that dissimilar to Tom Brady's TB12 -- selling an array of T-shirts, snapbacks and beanies.
Despite playing under Bill Belichick, Edelman has managed to allow his personal brand to explode. That may be even more of an accomplishment than his rise to No. 1 receiver status.
Photos of Brady hoisting the Lombardi Trophy are indelible in the minds of Boston sports fans. But so are the billboards that align the Mass Pike depicting him in Ugg boots.
Since 2011, Brady has served as the Ugg Boots for Men spokesman. He's also a spokesman for Under Armour, and wisely acquired stock in the company when he signed on.
But Brady is involved in more than just the business side of the fashion world. Gisele Bündchen's husband is quite the model himself:
As the reigning NFL MVP, it's obvious Newton's stellar play helps the Carolina Panthers on the football field. But his outlandish fashion choices, such as his leopard pants and his fox tail accessory, may also help set the tone for the Panthers.
"Everything about what he does shows he has confidence in himself and confidence in us. Yeah, the pants too," said Ted Ginn Jr., via USA Today. "It is part of showing you believe in yourself and what you are doing."
#Panthers QB Cam Newton getting ready to board the bus for #SB50 #NFL #CLT #KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/GKQ1iJH7eR— Ron Clements (@Ron_Clements) January 31, 2016
Newton's father says a sixth-grade punishment led to his son's fashion fearlessness.
"He was being disruptive. 'You want to draw attention to yourself? I'll tell you what we are going to do, Cam. You're going to dress up, intellectually. You're going to wear a suit, a tie, all this,'" Cecil Newton said on SportsCenter earlier this year, via Business Insider. "It started as, we were trying to mock him, make him stand out in a way that I didn't think he was going to embrace. Lo and behold, two or three weeks in, Cam is up early ironing his shirt willingly, putting his slacks out the night before, ready to embrace the moment."
Embracing the moment is precisely what Newton does: from dabbing after scoring touchdowns to wearing flamboyant pants. And apparently, it's all thanks to his dad who set him straight.
If anyone in the NFL could challenge Westbrook for his whimsical style, it'd be Newton. But until he wears an $800 orange pullover that is 98 percent sleeves, Newton will just have to settle for being the most daring fashionista in the NFL.