New ESPN column today — here’s the link.
Meanwhile: As we all know by now, baseball has fallen out of favor with black Americans, at least as a participatory sport. And now former MLBer Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd is trying to do something about it. He and former teammate Delino DeShields recently formed the Urban Baseball League. Billed as the “Rebirth of the Negro Leagues,” the UBL is slated to begin games next year, with a focus on encouraging young black players to participate. No uniforms yet, but they’ve got team logos for the four charter teams: the Blackbirds, Black Tops, Afros, and Stacks.
Well. I think it’s fair to say that if a white-run league came up with something like those last two logos, many people would find it in poor taste at best, flat-out racist at worst. And how different are those logos from, say, this or this? Is it suddenly okay if a black-run enterprise uses this type of imagery? Is it all about intent, not content? What’s the line separating stereotype from cultural expression? Does the passing of time recontextualize things? Can these logos now be considered “cool” in the same way 1970s blaxploitation movies are? If so, isn’t it worth remembering that the arbiters of this coolness have primarily been white culture geeks doing what white culture geeks always do (i.e., cherrypicking the aspects of black culture they find most appealing)? Isn’t “blaxploitation” a clever term whose cleverness obscures its pejorative meaning?
Okay, so I’m veering off-topic there. Race is such a messed-up element in American life, and it tends to distort everything it touches, so it’s hard to pin down a discussion like this one. The fact that Uni Watch’s readership is, as far as I can tell, about 98% white doesn’t exactly help matters.
But here’s the thing: People forget that the Negro Leagues themselves should never have existed in the first place. But they did, and now we celebrate them as worthy outgrowth of an unjust time. Seems like a shaky premise for starting a new league today, though.
And here’s something else: These are all essentially throwback logos. I mean, for a venture aimed at contemporary black youth, it’s amazing how completely devoid of hip-hop influence these designs are. Shouldn’t the teams be called the Bling or something like that? Granted, I’m neither young nor black, but it seems to me that black kids are gonna view these logos as just the latest evidence that baseball is that boring old game that their grandfathers used to play.
(Special thanks to Ronnie Poore for bringing the UBL to my attention.)
Uni Watch News Ticker: A nonplussed Dominic J. Litten reports: “The Italian national soccer team has unveiled its new, hideous away strip with gold detailing on the collar, which they will debut in Saturday’s Euro 2008 qualifier against Scotland.” … Another season-opening MLB series in Japan — does that mean another round of uniform advertisements, like in 2000 and 2004? … St. Louis University guard Tommie Liddell is now going by Tommie Lidell III, complete with the roman numeral on his jersey. Details here (with thanks to Jeff Hood). … Turns out that Eric Stangel, a semi-frequent commenter and Ticker contributor, is also the head writer/producer for David Letterman — which means he’s been out on strike for the past week and a half. “Something happened today that made me think of Uni Watch,” he writes. “Bill Scheft is a writer on the show and also the Late Show Strike Captain. What better way to designate his captainhood than by giving him a Jason Varitek-style ‘C’ on his chest.” So there you have it, people: Uni Watch, the official sports web site of the American labor movement. … “So proud of the Missouri Valley Conference,” writes bench coach Bryan Redemske. “They left last year’s patches on. … Check out this totally boss jersey I won on eBay yesterday (with extra-big thanks to Scott Turner, who brought the item to my attention). … “Last weekend I visited the new Ripley’s Believe It or Not! tourist trap in Times Square,” writes Steve Flack. “They mention how Robert Ripley’s second passion, beyond the oddities featured in his newspaper strip, was baseball. They have a complete set of uniforms from a charity baseball game he put together in 1939. His team was called the Believe It Or Nots and featured such legends as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, and Jack Dempsey. The weirdest thing was that the uniform were Turkish harem-style, complete with turbans, completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.” … If only this were true. … Reprinted from last night’s comments: Nice breakdown of Georgetown basketball uniform history here.