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First Pitch

I don’t much care for blogs; I don’t even like word blog. But until we come up with a better term, this here thing you’re now reading is a blog devoted to the details of sports uniform design. If you’re already familiar with my “Uni Watch” column, which runs on ESPN.com, welcome aboard and many thanks for your past support; if you’re new to Uni Watch and want to get a sense of what it’s all about, an archive of my ESPN material is here, and you may also want to check out this site’s About Uni Watch and FAQ pages.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding: “Uni Watch” will continue to run on ESPN.com. This site is intended to supplement the column, not replace it. So why create a new forum when the column is doing just fine on its own? Here are some of the reasons:

• The ESPN column only runs every two weeks, which inevitably means some of the material in it is already old news by the time it’s published. My hope is that the blog will allow me to react to things more or less in real time.

• Another result of the two-week ESPN cycle is that each column installment tends to be very long — sometimes very, very long. Siphoning off some of the material into the blog should make the column more manageable, which will be better for everyone.

• Sometimes there are uni-related topics I want to explore that don’t fit the tone of the column, or aren’t quite ready for prime time. I’m hoping the blog will serve as a staging area for these topics. I’ll get to one of them in a minute, in fact.

• Lots of readers have told me they’d read fresh Uni Watch material every day if it was available. Well, now it is.

The blog will probably take a bit of time to find its voice, rhythm, and character. The only thing I’m sure of for now is that I want it to sound at least somewhat distinct from the column. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably already noticed that this entry includes words like I, me, and my, which I never use on ESPN. I enjoy the column’s third-person Uni Watch persona and self-conscious geekiness, but I want the blog’s style to be more straightforward, less affected. So instead of saying, “Uni Watch is gravely distressed by the latest machinations emanating from the offices of Swooshkateers, Inc.,” as I might do in the column, here I’ll be more inclined to say, “Nike totally sucks.”

All of which brings us to one of those exploratory topics I mentioned earlier. In a word: superheroes.

To explain: It seems to me that the big trend in sports design these days — furthered, of course, by Nike — is toward superhero costumes. Those injection-molded batting helmets and dot-sleeved undershirts are good examples of this. So are Nike’s asymmetrical football sleeves, those gonzo Oregon football designs, the NFL’s increasing use of dark-on-dark outfits, and the rise of tights in the NBA. All these looks show a heavy comic book influence.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. When Serena Williams wore one of her outlandish getups at Key Biscayne in 2004, an AP story said she “looked like a costumed superhero.” A few days later she switched to a different design and then said, “This is my Wonder Woman outfit. I feel real powerful in this suit, like a superhero.” And according to this recent article, a new kind of wrestling uniform “resembles a superhero’s ensemble.”

Video games probably have a lot to do with this, since they literally turn sports into a cartoon. Another contributing factor: merchandising, where even the sales imagery looks comic book-esque. That’s not surprising, since modern training methods and steroids have given us athletes with superhuman or even freakish physiques.

Personally, I have nothing against comic books, video games, or big muscles. But I think the sad thing about this aesthetic is that it’s probably put a big dent in the aspirational aspect of being a young fan, because it puts sports on an unattainable fantasy plane. Like, I used to think (however misguidedly) that I could grow up to be a ballplayer. But most kids are smart enough to know they’ll never grow up to Superman.

Okay, that’s enough for the first day. Check back tomorrow for more. Meanwhile, as always, feel free to be in touch.

 

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