On Saturday, the KU football team will suit up for their first game of the season. Players easily pull shoulder pads with their attached skin-tight jerseys over their heads as they don all the gear needed to keep them safe and looking sharp. However, before they even began full-on practices for the season, the players had to suit up in a different type of uniform, one most are not used to wearing.
A sport coat, shirt and tie became required wear for the annual head shots seen in the media guide, online and sent to media outlets. This year for football, the team’s Communications Director, Katy Lonergan, came up with a special twist to tie up the dressed-up packages. She wanted the players to wear bow ties.
Since I have been photographing both football and basketball players for years wearing coats and ties, my biggest concern was the time it would take to get every player ready. It probably is a sign of our more casual clothing times, but almost all of these players have never worn a tie in their young lives. I have tied ties for more players than I can remember and even one for the only head shot Mark Mangino used throughout his career at KU.
My worry was the extra time it would take to tie the bow ties. Lonergan was adamant we would not use clip-on bow ties. She wanted the real deal and promised it would take no more time than we spend trying to wrangle huge linemen into white dress shirts and get a regular tie knotted around their necks. What a mistake for me to ever doubt Lonergan or the communication department’s great aide-de-camp, Erin Penning. Both watched videos and practiced endlessly the night before our first of three photo sessions. Their efforts paid off as we moved smoothly through the long run of players with very neatly knotted bow ties.
There was initial skepticism over the bow ties throughout the football offices, but coaches and players quickly changed their minds after looking at the results on the back of my camera. Naturally, the players and I had fun with the looks which kept the mood light. Keon Stowers even included me in his selfie and posted it on Twitter. Hard to beat that.
That is, unless you are beating Missouri again. KU’s images began to appear in publications soon after the first session in June. Suddenly, Missouri decided to have the players they sent to the SEC media day wear bow ties. The only problem was they did not have Lonergan or Penning to help their players tie those ties. Their scheduled media session had to be delayed while a team representative scrambled throughout the hotel to find anyone capable of tying a bow tie. Just another Border War victory for KU.
There is wide speculation calling for another difficult football season. True or not, I deal with the people making up KU sports. Strictly from that standpoint, my time with the players and their positive reaction to trying something new and different made them winners with me. That means little come Saturday, but my thanks go out to each of them, and to Lonergan and Penning, for tying up everything neatly with those bow ties.