Shown above: Vanna White, wearing a Miami Heat white-out jersey, eating white bread and white rice, in a blizzard.
Today I want to pose a question. I’m not sure the question has a correct answer, but I think it’s a question that’s at least worth asking and thinking about. (I should also point out up front that while the set-up to the question involves politics, the question itself is not political. So don’t be scared off by the set-up.)
Here’s the deal: Unless you’ve been under a very big rock for the past month, you’ve probably heard people saying that Mitt Romney lost the election in part because his coalition of support consisted primarily of white males, and white males are an aging, decreasing segment of the American population. I read several analyses (and you probably did too) that basically said, “Any enterprise — political, cultural, business, or otherwise — that continues to rely primarily on white males is going to be left behind in today’s America.”
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself after reading that. “I know of an enterprise that’s based primarily on white males: Uni Watch.”
I know some of you aren’t white and/or male, but I’m pretty certain most of you are. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising, since Uni Watch is, at its heart, a very geeky endeavor, and geekitude is an overwhelmingly white, male cultural phenomenon. (The reasons for that are worth discussing too, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Now, not all of us agree on every uni-related topic. But I think it would be fair to say that most of us agree about a few core tenets and standards regarding uniforms. We don’t like “Look at me!” gestures; we don’t like overly showy or flashy designs; we like “classy” designs; we tend to think less is more; we like tradition, at least up to a point; we don’t like baggy basketball shorts or baggy baseball uniforms.
I think all of these preferences — each of which I happen to agree with — are, in their way, very white. Even the word “classy” is derived from notions of social class, which is itself a white-European concept.
But as the election showed, building a movement on the backs of white males may have become a loser’s game. So here’s my question: Is the aesthetic that most of us tend to celebrate here really a white aesthetic? And if so, given the demographic trends in America, does that mean we’re destined to be on the wrong side of aesthetic history?
Before you answer those questions, here are a few other thoughts to consider:
• We often say that tastes in uniform design are generational — the 20-year-olds vs. the 45-year-olds, roughly speaking. But it’s worth noting that today’s 20-year-olds live in a much more racially and culturally integrated world than I did when I was 20. So what we think of as a generational divide may actually have a racial component.
• It’s also worth noting that the demographics have shifted for the players who actually wear the uniforms. Most NBA players are black; most NFL players are black; an increasing percentage of MLB players are Latino and Asian. Perhaps it’s not surprising that many of these young, non-white players have uni-design tastes that don’t match up with mine (or yours).
• You know which groups are still mostly old-ish and white? All of the owners, most of the coaches, most of the GMs, and all of the commissioners — in other words, the people who get the last word on things like uniform design. But as they age out of their positions and are replaced by a younger, more diverse set of people, we may see more changes to the dominant uni aesthetic. (You can already see the stage being set for this in the NBA, where septuagenarian David Stern, who held the line against logo creep and uniform advertising for years, will soon make way for the much younger Adam Silver, who wants to add uniform advertising. Now, Silver is white, but I think it’s fair to say that he doesn’t fit the “crusty old white male” model like Stern does.)
• When I was growing up, sports and pop culture were two fairly distinct realms, rarely intersecting with each other. But now, sports is firmly enmeshed in the pop culture world. And the biggest pop culture influence, without question, is hip-hop — which, of course, is the pre-eminent form of modern black cultural expression. Personally, I’ve never liked hip-hop, either musically or socio-culturally, but all you have to do is watch a game or two to see that it’s a huge influence on many of today’s players and fans. So again, perhaps it’s not surprising that people who are into hip-hop would have uni-design tastes that don’t match up with mine.
• Finally, I think it’s also worth noting that the world of graphic design has always been dominated by white males. So has the world of design criticism (and cultural criticism in general). All of this has had an effect on our aesthetic tastes, whether we realize it or not. I don’t know if companies like Nike and Under Armour have more diverse design staffs than, say, a New York design firm would have had 30 years ago, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me.
I want to make it clear that I think there’s nothing wrong with having “white tastes” (I put that in quotes because I also realize that the whole notion of “white tastes” is a construct, and an elastic one at that). I’m not accusing anyone of being racist, or of anything else. I’m just asking if our tastes in uniforms are influenced by our status as white males, and if that means we’re on the losing side of the aesthetic argument in an increasingly diverse America. I’m also curious to know what those of you who aren’t white and/or male think of all this.
Uni Watch News Ticker: All NFL teams are wearing Hall of Fame patches this week and next, beginning with last night’s Raiders/Broncos game. Further details here. … The Bills will wear throwbacks this weekend. … Love the maple leaf-themed uni number design worn by the 1995 Canadian rugby team (from Eric Bangeman). … A former Under Armour exec has opened a barbecue joint in Joe Hilseberg’s Baltimore neighborhood. “It turned out just like I expected: a perfect combination of meat, awesome sauces, and uniforms,” he says. … The Color Mafia has decreed that my favorite color will be in fashion for 2013 (from Richard Stover). … A new apparel company in Kansas City has come up with a dress shirt inspired by how Negro Leaguers used to dress off the field (from Brian McDavitt). … Contrary to what I reported in yesterday’s Ticker, Utah did not wear this Rick Majerus memorial patch on Wednesday night. Instead, they wore Majerus’s initials on their collars. They also put a Majerus sweater on an empty chair near the bench. Nate Hurst picks up the story from there: “I found it odd that it had a Reebok logo on it (though Utah was a Reebok school back then), as Utah is now an Under Armour school. Why would they bother with logo creep on a faux memorial sweater unless it was an actual sweater of Rick’s? Also, the Reebok logo looked really amateur. Turns out it was a last-minute find by the athletic department and they literally took it off the back of a fan who had made the sweater himself.” … The Heat wore their white-on-white uniforms last night. … Tom Brady was mixing Pat Patriot and Flying Elvis the other day (from Ben Marciniak). … Ricahrd Stover sent me this early-’50s photo of the Rochester Royals. Note that several of the players have number starting with zero. “The Royals still are the only NBA team to have players wear 03, 07, or 09,” he notes. I asked Rochester expert Terry Proctor about this, but he doesn’t know the story behind it. “I did know the late Les Harrison who owned the Royals,” says Terry. “He was a notorious cheapskate, so it makes you wonder why he’d add a meaningless digit to his uniforms.” … Good piece about open wheel racing champions using No. 1 (from Glenn Heck). … Here’s the patch for the Credit Card with the Really Annoying Ad Campaign Bowl. … Here’s a weird one: During last night’s Broncos/Raiders game, the NFL Network showed a still shot of Peyton Manning in a Broncos uni playing against a Pats player with an “MHK” patch. As you know, that patch was worn last season, when Manning wasn’t yet with the Broncos. In fact, Manning didn’t play at all last season. Very odd choice of Photoshoppery (screen shot by Matt Sampson). … Interesting Minnesota basketball note buried at the very bottom of this page: “Gophers guard Andre Hollins, who is a teammate of guard Austin Hollins, on why he had ‘Dre Hollins’ put on the back of his basketball jersey: ‘I didn’t want mine to be “An Hollins” because “Au Hollins” sounds the same. “Dre” is just easier’” (from Andy Henderson). … “Went to the Giants Dugout Store on Thursday to look at all the cool stuff,” says Brinke. “Lady in line wanted to pay with Amex and the person behind the counter said, allinonesentencemonotonelike, “I’m sorry we don’t accept American Express Visa is our promotional partner I do apologize for any inconvenience.”