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Why does one volleyball player wear a different color jersey?

The International Volleyball Federation introduced the libero in 1996.

WASHINGTON — Volleyball is underway at the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The U.S. men's team took down France in straight sets Saturday in its opening match of Group B play. 

Viewers of Team USA's match may have noticed two players on the team's 12-player roster who sport different jerseys than the rest of the team. Who are they? 

They're called the libero. A libero is a defensive specialist, introduced by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), which is the organization that governs Olympic volleyball, after the 1996 Games. Because of the defensive nature of the position, there are a few things that a libero can't do, like serve, block or play an attacking shot. 

According to the FIVB's rules, "If the libero makes an overhead set of the ball in front of the 3-meter attack line, the ball may not be spiked over by the team. If the libero makes the same action behind the front zone, the ball may be freely attacked." 

The libero is also required to wear a different color jersey, presumably to make it easier for referees to enforce those rules.

The liberos aren't subject to the same substitution rules either. They switch through a process called "replacement." According to NBC, at least one point must be played between a libero coming off the court, and coming back on to replace another player.

Prior to 2021, the libero wasn't allowed to be team captain. But in February, the FIVB Refereeing and Rules of the Game Commission changed that rule to allow the libero to act as team or game captain.

There are two liberos on each of the U.S. men's and women's volleyball teams. For the men's team, Erik Shoji is representing the U.S. for his second Olympics, and Dustin Watten is the team's alternate. On the women's side, Justine Wong Orantes is in her first Olympics, while Megan Courtney is an alternate.    

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