The Pink Locker Room at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium

Penn State v Iowa
Matthew Holst / Getty Images

Visiting teams that come to Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium face the formidable University of Iowa Hawkeyes and their fans, seasonal weather that can sometimes range from bad to miserable and a unique characteristic that screams of Iowa tradition: a pink locker room.

The visitor’s locker room at Kinnick is painted pink. The walls are pink. The floors are pink. The toilets are pink. It is pink everywhere.

The locker room is beloved and controversial.

And at least according to one Iowa coaching legend, it is a big key to Iowa’s home-field success.

Gridiron Psychology

The pink locker room was the brainchild of legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry, who was the coach for the Hawkeyes from 1979 to 1998. Fry had graduated with a psychology degree from Baylor University. He claims that he once read that the color pink can have a calming effect on people.

So after he arrived at Iowa, Fry ordered the color pink for Kinnick’s visiting locker room. Some say Fry actually believed the color would calm his team’s opponents. Others believe he wanted to psychologically beat the opposing team before they stepped out on the field.

Fry wrote in his book, “A High Porch Picnic,” “When I talk to an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I've got him. I can't recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us."

Fry coached two decades at Iowa, more than twice as long as any coach before him.

Fry had a 143–89–6 record at Iowa. He led the Hawkeyes to 14 bowl games. Before his arrival, the Hawkeyes had been to two bowl games in 90 years. He also led the Hawkeyes to three Big Ten titles and three Rose Bowl appearances. 

Bo Hates Pink

Among the coaches who were annoyed by the pink locker room was University of Michigan’s Bo Schembechler, head coach of the Wolverines from 1969 to 1989.

By most accounts, Schembechler absolutely hated the locker room, going so far as to have his staff bring paper to cover the walls when the Wolverines played there. His wall covering efforts did not always have the desired effect, under Schembechler, Michigan was 2-2-1 at Kinnick Stadium.

An Unexpected Controversy

As part of a massive renovation of Kinnick Stadium in 2004, the pink locker room got even pinker, as pink lockers, toilets and showers were installed to go along with the pink walls.

The locker room redo didn’t sit well with some Iowa law professors and students, who in 2005 protested that the locker room reinforced stereotypes of pink being attributed to women and the gay community, and the underlying psychology was to make the other team seem weak or "sissy." They charged that by having the pink locker room, Iowa was endorsing discrimination of women and the LGBT community.

The protests caused a stir, but public opinion strongly turned in favor of the tradition. As Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins wrote that year, “I'm sure I should be more upset about the pink decor in the visitors' dressing room at Iowa. But as it happens, my violent knee-jerk reaction is that it's merely funny.

If the armies of feminism want to change my thinking on that, they're going to have to slap electrodes to my pretty little forehead and zap me until I stop giggling.”