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What athletes have color blindness?

Color blindness, also known as color vision deficiency, is a common condition that impacts how people see color. It affects around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women globally.

What is color blindness?

Color blindness is the decreased ability to see colors or distinguish between certain colors. It is most often due to a defect in the development of one or more sets of retinal cones that perceive color in light and transmit that information to the optic nerve.

There are different types of color blindness:

  • Red-green color blindness is the most common. People with it can’t distinguish between red and green.
  • Blue-yellow color blindness is less common. People with it have trouble telling blue from yellow or purple from gray.
  • Complete color blindness, or the inability to see any colors, is very rare.

Color blindness is usually inherited genetically and present from birth. It affects people of all races and ethnicities. While it can limit some activities, it generally doesn’t cause vision problems and typically doesn’t get worse over time.

How does color blindness affect athletes?

Color blindness can create unique challenges for athletes. The ability to distinguish between colors is important in many sports. Issues color blind athletes may face include:

  • Difficulty distinguishing team uniforms, sports equipment, and playing fields/surfaces marked with colored lines or sections
  • Inability to see colored flags, signage, or signals from officials, coaches, or teammates
  • Trouble spotting and tracking balls, pucks, or other objects during play
  • Reduced reaction time due to confusion over color-coded cues
  • Impaired depth perception and distance judgments

These difficulties can put color blind players at a disadvantage and lead to mistakes or slow reaction times. However, being color blind doesn’t mean someone can’t become an elite professional athlete. With practice, coping strategies, and aids like color-enhancing lenses, many sports stars overcome color vision issues.

Famous athletes with color blindness

Despite the challenges, many top athletes across various sports have color blindness. Here are some famous professional athletes who have succeeded even with color vision deficiency:


  • Willie Mays – Hall of Fame center fielder for the Giants and Mets from 1951-1973. Had trouble distinguishing dark colors like navy blue.
  • Jeff Frye – Infielder for several MLB teams from 1990-2001. Red-green colorblindness made it hard to follow the baseball.


  • Troy Aikman – Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback and 3-time Super Bowl champ. Reportedly couldn’t distinguish orange pylons on the field.
  • Mark Sanchez – Former Jets QB said he was red-green colorblind. Had issues with uniforms, field, and signals.


  • Michael Jordan – Widely considered the greatest basketball player ever. Was partially colorblind, especially between red and green.
  • Alton Lister – NBA forward struggled to tell the difference between the orange basketball and brown hoop/backboard.


  • Brett Hull – Hockey Hall of Famer nicknamed “The Golden Brett.” Had trouble spotting the puck on ice and TV.
  • Chris Chelios – Retired NHL defenseman who admitted issues differentiating between red and green.


  • Daley Blind – Dutch national team defender uses special contact lenses due to color blindness.
  • Yevhen Konoplyanka – Ukrainian winger who said his red-green colorblindness initially affected his play.

Other Sports

  • Jack Nicklaus – Golf legend who won a record 18 major championships while colorblind.
  • Morgan Pressel – Top LPGA Tour pro golfer affected by red-green color deficiency.
  • Scott Hamilton – Olympic and world champion figure skater was unable to distinguish blue from purple.

Prevalence in Major League Baseball

Studies suggest color blindness may be slightly more common in baseball than other major sports. An estimated 1 in 10 men in the general population are color blind, while up to 1 in 5 male baseball players are estimated to have some level of color vision deficiency.

Study Sample Size Percentage Colorblind
Schnall et al. 1989 63 MLB players 22%
Laby et al. 1996 317 MLB draft prospects 9%
Bimler et al. 2004 224 MLB players 16%

The higher rates in baseball may be due to superior hand-eye coordination and visual acuity offsetting issues with color perception. Top baseball skills rely more on tracking speed and movement than color recognition. Also, baseball’s predictable playing field with white, brown, and green hues may pose less challenges than highly-colorful sports.

Challenges color blind baseball players face

Despite the high proportion ofMajor League Baseball players with color blindness, it can still cause difficulties including:

  • Trouble distinguishing brown baseball from green grass and dirt
  • Confusion seeing the red stitching on white baseballs
  • Mixing up dark green outfield walls and navy blue tarps/seats
  • Problems with pitch counts on colored fingers from the catcher
  • Seeing different spin on pitches indicated by red or green markings
  • Difficulty following yellow and white foul lines on the field
  • Issues differentiating red and green LED lights on equipment
  • Not spotting coaches’ signs with red and green indicator cards

Color blindness impacts players in positions where quickly spotting and tracking the ball is vital. Fast reaction times are critical in hitting, fielding, and pitching. MLB players learn to adapt through practice, using cues besides color, and optimizing other vision capabilities.

How color blind players succeed in baseball

Despite the inherited condition, some of baseball’s biggest legends excelled with color blindness through skill and various strategies:

  • Keen sense of baseball movement and trajectory – Color blind players like Willie Mays still tracked balls extremely accurately by developing this instinct.
  • Picking up early cues – Focusing on pitchers’ motions, bat cracks, etc. helps them react quicker.
  • Sharp focus on brightness and contrast – Balls stand out against backgrounds due to differences in light/dark.
  • Mastering depth perception – Careful attention to players’ positions and distances allows quick judgments.
  • Color-enhancing lenses/glasses – Optics can help players see contrast between colors like red and green.
  • Adaptation exercises – Drills and training helps the brain distinguish colors in play.
  • Communication and positioning – Tips from coaches and optimal defensive spots aids recognition.

With preparation tailored to their vision, color blind athletes demonstrate it’s possible to thrive in baseball at the highest levels.


Color blindness is a common condition that presents unique difficulties in sports like baseball that involve quickly reacting to colored objects. However, with practice and visual training, players learn to adapt and excel by optimizing other senses and skills. Many star athletes have overcome color vision issues through determination and adjusting their play. With the right support, color blindness doesn’t have to be a barrier to succeeding as a professional baseball player.