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Oops. Sorry to hit you in the face with my sweaty towel, kid, but take care of this until I have to towel off again, OK?

Rafael Nadal

It’s August. It’s hot. It’s real hot. And we’re in the middle of the U.S. Open Series and all these lead-up tournaments, from 100-degree Atlanta right through to the start of Open, are leaving ball kids handling a lot of pretty sloppy towels.

Is it a hygiene problem, you’ve wondered as you watched a player mop the sweat off his face, his hair, his arms, his legs and then throw the towel, sometimes behind his back as he walks back to the baseline, at the ball kid.

A towel isn’t tough to catch, but I’ve seen a few times, and I’ll wager you have, too, when that sloppy towel slapped some kid across the face as he tried to collect it.

We live in the latex glove age, when counties and states have ordinances requiring restaurant food handlers not to touch food with bare hands, and with good reason. But it might surprise you to know that the chances of contracting anything from some player’s drenched towel is just about zero.

“The likelihood of catching anything is very slim because there would have to be some opening in the skin, like a cut or abrasion,” said Dr. Daniel Lim, Distinguished Professor of applied microbiology at the University of South Florida.

“But, also, the player would have to be heavily infected,” Lim added. “The chances of a ball kid getting anything is very slim, highly unlikely.”

Dr. Bruce Sherman, who writes a blog called Gymvalet, in which he deals with health issues that affect people at workout studios, has seen his share of sweaty towels at tennis matches.

“Any germs that are on the player would still be alive and viable when the towel is thrown back to the ball kids. But will anything be transmitted? That’s another question,” he said. “Watch the ball kid after each time the towel is thrown back to them. Do they touch or rub their eyes, nose or mouth? Do they have any minor abrasions on any part of their body that comes into contact with the towel. A good, strong immune system is a good first line of defense against germ transmission.”

I’m guessing that most of the kids chosen to hustle down balls at a professional tournament don’t think much, if at all, about infections or the yuckiness of catching a dripping, sweat-laced towel. But the warmer the weather, the more I’m focusing on those towels, thinking one of the last things I’d want to do on a tennis court is handle someone else’s sweat rag, whether I have an open cut or not.

Nevertheless, if you’ve ever wondered about the hygiene factor, set your mind at ease. Ball kids don’t have to wear gloves. They don’t even need one of those hand disinfectants that have become popular.

Still, it’s not a bad idea if, after coming off the court, they give their hands a good wash and, if needed, pass on a word of advice to players with bad towel aim. “If it’s not too much trouble, Mr. (fill in name), could you just hand me the towel next time instead of hitting me in the face.”

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Charles Bricker can be reached at nflwriterr@aol.com.

One Response to “Do sweaty towels from tennis players transmit germs?”

  1. Charles, this is a good point you have raised. Why not mark a place behind the baseline where the players can put their towels and pick it up themselves ? Why should the ball kids put up with the sweaty and smelly towels even if its not a hygiene problem ?


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