Commentary

Wes Welker's hair-raising admission

Updated: July 25, 2012, 2:19 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

It's strange, sad and fitting that Sherman Hemsley died the day after New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker admitted he recently underwent a hair-restoration procedure.

[+] EnlargeWelker
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesWes Welker didn't hide behind a hat at Super Bowl media day.

Hemsley, who died Tuesday at age 74, made bald dudes everywhere feel cool because of his iconic portrayal of television character George Jefferson, the strutting, confident businessman who was one of the original founders of (mostly) hairless swag.

As Jefferson looks down on us from that deluxe apartment in the heavenly skies, surely he would have been proud that Welker was secure enough to reveal that he needed help with his thinning landscape.

According to the Boston Globe, Welker had a five-hour hair procedure done after his wedding in Aspen, Colo. Dr. Robert Leonard, the popular, Rhode Island-based hair transplant surgeon who performed the procedure, described Welker as the perfect patient.

"Wes is extraordinarily gentlemanly," Leonard told the Globe.

But maybe the better word to describe Welker is brave.

No matter how tough or skilled an athlete is, many of them are just as insecure about their appearance as the rest of us. And it can't be easy to publicly disclose a physical limitation that has nothing to do with on-field performance.

I could do an entire column on the jokes made about LeBron James' receding hairline. And that would be based on just the ones made by Charles Barkley.

But I give LeBron credit because last fall he poked fun at the fact that he was 26 years old and cursed with a hairline that's sliding closer to his ears with each passing day.

Except the best solution LeBron could come up with to fight his wayward hairline was masking it with a headband that rivals the width of a tire.

[+] EnlargeWayne Rooney
Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty ImagesWayne Rooney has a fuller head of hair this year.

Welker is at least addressing his natural regression. Or, rather, surgically fixing it.

When you consider how thoroughly athletes are ridiculed on the Internet, how much celebrity magazines and sites traffic in unflattering photos, it takes a special confidence to not only receive a hair transplant but also issue a statement about it to the media. Let's not kid ourselves about how athletes earn their paychecks. Certainly their natural ability is a factor, but they can't make the most of htat without spending countelss hours working on their bodies.

So in some ways, Welker, who was almost flowery in his praise of Leonard's handiwork, made a business decision. Not that Welker is some kind of hair martyr. His honesty does come with an agenda. He will serve as a spokesman for Leonard, which includes appearing in TV, radio and print advertisements.

Some athletes probably wouldn't confess to using hair plugs if they were hooked up to a lie detector test.

After all, Welker's superstar teammate Tom Brady -- the one at times with flowing locks who seems to be featured in fashion magazines as frequently as his supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen -- reportedly was seen at Leonard's office before, but whether he received any services remains a state secret.

Who would have guessed that Brady felt more comfortable modeling for Uggs than revealing what he did to his hair?

Now, some consider Welker's hair transplants to be a non-story. Admittedly, on the breaking news scale of zero to Saints Bountygate, Welker's hair revelation doesn't rank real high.

But there is something endearing about an athlete who isn't afraid to acknowledge something that contradicts the stereotype that he's impervious to imperfections.

And Welker isn't alone in this club. In June 2011, English soccer star Wayne Rooney tweeted a picture of his new hair transplant.

"Hi all there's my head," he tweeted. "It will take a few months to grow. Still a bit bloody to. But that's all normal. #hairwego."

Self-deprecation is an approach that more athletes should adopt.

Sure, the bolder step for Rooney or Welker would have been to succumb to baldness. It certainly worked for Michael Jordan. And, Lex Luthor.

But there's also nothing wrong with their showcasing a little vanity and letting people know that keeping their hair is important.

It's not unmanly or hair-esy.

Jemele Hill | email

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