‘Colorblind’ fans flag NFL on jersey gaffe, AOA responds

November 17, 2015
1 in 12 American men affected by color vision deficiency.

Colorful is one way to describe the debut-turned-faux-pas of new NFL uniforms, with fans on social media seeing red—or, more accurately, gray if you're like 1 in 12 American men— and AOA has thrown a flag.

Marking 50 years since the first color broadcast of a regular season game, the NFL and jersey-maker Nike upped the saturation level of teams' uniforms in its "Color Rush" campaign that pits opposing teams in their primary colors—head-to-toe—as opposed to the routine dark versus white jerseys.

Such a vibrant show got off to a flat start on Thursday Night Football, Nov. 12, however, when the all-red Buffalo Bills took on the all-green New York Jets. Former New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes was just one voice taking to social media to point out the inherent problem with this matchup.

Nearly 10 million Americans—as many as 8% of men, and 0.5% of women with Northern European ancestry—suffer from this common form of color vision deficiency, according to the National Eye Institute. Color vision deficiency occurs when photoreceptors in the retina, known as cones, lack one or more light-sensitive pigments, resulting in color perception that lacks one or more of the three primary colors.

Karl Citek, O.D., Ph.D., Pacific University College of Optometry professor and AOA Commission on Ophthalmic Standards chair, says these individuals can see color, but not in the same way or with the same discrimination as someone with normal color vision. Red-green color deficiency is the most common, which means some Thursday Night Football viewers experienced difficulties watching the game.

"To top it all off, the green of the jerseys of one team was even similar in appearance to the color of the field," Dr. Citek says. "For someone with normal color vision, imagine seeing the game in black-and-white; all the jerseys and the field would be similar shades of gray."

The social media outcry prompted the NFL to release a statement, saying: "We did test the jerseys this summer on field and on television. The standard television test did not account for color blindness for fans at home that became apparent last night. We will enhance our testing to include a color blindness analysis to better address this issue in the future."

But the future isn't that far off—the next of three additional "Color Rush" matchups features the all-blue Tennessee Titans and all-gold Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, Nov. 19.

"Congenital blue-yellow color vision deficiency is quite rare, occurring perhaps once in every several thousand individuals," Dr. Citek says. "The most common blue-yellow deficiency will occur for patients who have cataracts, or a clouding of the lens inside the eye. Even so, the gold jerseys will appear brighter than the blue ones, since the eye is more sensitive to yellow than blue.

"Enjoy the game, and may the team with your favorite colors win."

AOA reaches out to Nike, NFL about color vision deficiency

Doctors of optometry play a key role in the care and detection of patients with color vision deficiencies, and many doctors are even experts in sports training as it relates to vision. It's for this reason that AOA wrote informative letters to Nike's CEO Mark Parker and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the condition. These letters from AOA President Steven A. Loomis, O.D., offer a primer on color vision deficiency, including its causes and various visual aids for people to cope, such as special lenses or even digital applications.

"Nike and the NFL can help all sports fans follow their favorite teams better by choosing the appropriate uniform colors, accent colors and contrasting helmet colors," Dr. Loomis' letter states. "The American Optometric Association stands ready to assist."

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