Over the past couple of days, there have been at least three teams that have acknowledged real-world tragedies on their uniforms, or at least announced plans to do so:
• The Diamondbacks responded to the 19 fallen firefighters by creating a new black “Arizona” jersey with a “19” patch. They’ll continue to wear the patch on all their jerseys for the rest of the season.
• The Rangers dedicated Saturday’s game against the Astros to the victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas. They wore this sleeve patch for the occasion.
• The Thunder will pay tribute to Oklahoma tornado victims by wearing this (sleeved) jersey in tomorrow night’s NBA Summer League game in Orlando.
Obviously, supporting the victims of a real-world tragedy is a very positive way for a team to engage with its community. But here’s the thing: There’s nothing new about natural disasters or industrial accidents or heinous crimes or severe weather (although I guess we’re seeing more of the latter due to global climate change). Those things have always been with us. What’s changed is the degree to which these events are now acknowledged on sports uniforms.
As I wrote in an ESPN column last December, the bellwether moment for this trend appears to have been the Columbine High School shootings of 1999. Ever since then, teams have come up with uni-related responses to non-sports tragedies with increasing frequency.
I have mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, engaging with your community seems like a good thing, and many of these uniform gestures have been coupled with efforts to raise funds for victims. On the other hand, these gestures often feel like they have a lot of “Me too”-ism (and a fair degree of “Look at me” as well). We’ve seen a new wrinkle on this in the past few weeks, as several Mariners wore the Angels’ memorial patch for Dr. Lewis Yocum, and the Angels wore the Cardinals’ memorial patch for Stan Musial on their BP jerseys. Granted, those patches are standard baseball fare, not responses to non-baseball tragedies, but a team wearing another team’s patch is still a textbook case of “Me too.” At some point this starts feeling like everyone’s competing to see who can be the biggest grief fetishist.
Also, while it’s fine to respond to big-headline tragedies like explosions and hurricanes, what about ongoing systemic tragedies like poverty, income inequality, and child hunger? Should there be sleeve patches and stadium tributes for those too?
What do you all think of this? When the talk on Uni Watch turns even vaguely political, many of you have said, “I watch sports to escape from the real world, to forget about all that crap.” Do you feel the same way when teams remind you about tornado victims and dead firefighters? Why or why not?
Like I said, my feelings on this are mixed, so I have no agenda here, except to spur a good discussion. Go for it.
Team Merch Turns People Into Idiots: As you may have heard, here’s been a very silly kerfuffle in recent days about 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick wearing a Dolphins cap. Yahoo Sports blogger Frank Schwab got it right the other day when he said Kaepernick has nothing to apologize for, and any Niners fan who can’t deal with him wearing a Dolphins hat should grow up already. (Remember, I’m a Niners fan myself, and I honestly couldn’t care less about Kaepernick’s off-season headwear.)
That prompted reader Trevor Williams to come up with a bunch of similar examples of athletes wearing another’s team’s gear (many of which resulted in bogus “controversies” similar to the Kaepernick situation), including the following:
• Jordany Valdespin of the Mets wearing a Marlins cap
• LeBron James wearing a Yankees cap while the Yanks were playing the Indians in the playoffs
• CC Sabathia in Brooklyn Dodgers cap
• Tom Brady in a Yankees cap
• Chargers draft pick Keenan Allen in a Raiders cap
• Terrell Owens wearing a Michael Irvin jersey (this was before he played for the Cowboys
• Charles Johnson of the Panthers wearing a Falcons cap
In the non-athlete category, we have the following (most of these are from Trevor, although I added a few to his list):
• A reporter was fired for wearing a Florida hat to a University of Arkansas press conference.
• Jim Harbaugh, at the time with the Chargers, refused to talk to reporter wearing 49ers sweatshirt.
• A Louisiana high school student was sent home from school for wearing a Colts jersey on the day people had been encouraged to wear Saints gear.
• A Tacoma middle school student was sent home for wearing a Steelers jersey on “Seahawks Pride Day.”
• A Chicago-area car salesman was fired for wearing a Packers tie.
And so on. You know, I’ve been saying all along that the uni-verse would be a better place if we didn’t have merchandised gear (because the merch sales drive all the stupid designs we end up seeing). But now I also think the world at large would be better off without merchandised gear, because merchandised gear makes people behave like idiots. Seriously, take all the jerseys, caps, and the rest of it out of the retail marketplace and leave it where it belongs: on the field.
’Skins Watch: Here’s the latest on the ’Skins name and related issues:
• Port Townsend High School in Washington has decided to stop calling its teams the Redskins and is now searching for a new mascot name.
• Rock Newman — the former boxing promoter (he handled Riddick Bowe during Bowe’s heavyweight title period in the ’90s), former political activist, and current DC radio host — was siting near Dan Snyder at Robert Griffin III’s wedding and used the occasion to make it clear how he feels about the ’Skins name.
• Newly crowned Wimbledon champ Andy Murray is coached by former tennis great Ivan Lendl, who’s been wearing what appears at first glance to be a Blackhawks cap. Turns out it’s actually the logo of the Lake Waramaug Country Club in Connecticut, of which Lendl is a member. Interesting. I wonder how many Native Americans have been members of that club.
(My thanks to Markus Kamp, Patrick Lasseter, and Amanda Punim for their contributions to this section.)
Radio reminder: I’ll be talking about uniforms for at least half an hour today, 1pm eastern, on Connecticut Public Radio’s Colin McEnroe Show. Uni designer Todd Radom and Ebbets Field Flannels honcho Jerry Cohen will also be appearing on the show. You can use the “Listen Live” button in the left sidebar to hear the streaming audio.
Uni Watch News Ticker: More sleeved jerseys for the NBA Summer League: The Celtics and Magic wore them yesterday, and so did the Pacers (thanks, Phil). … This is pretty great: a look at Hull City’s long history of hoop socks (from Les Mothersby). … Amidst all the fuss about the ’Skins, it’s interesting to learn that there was once a rallying cry to keep the Redskins white (from Scott Little). … Justin Adler has come up with the concept of “business stirrups,” which he describes as “stirrups with a formalwear bent.” … Good photos of this year’s Drum Corps International uniforms here (from Dustin Semore). … Back in 1986, when Dr. J was a free agent, the Jazz tried to curry his favor by making this jersey for him (from Josh, who didn’t give his last name). … According to Richard Strobl, a rep from Majestic says that the Tigers will wear 1960 throwbacks on Aug. 3 against the White Sox. … The Chicago Fire wore flag-desecration uniforms the other day (first-ever submission from Sam Jurgens). … The MLB Fan Cave has dirt from all 30 MLB fields (rom Chris Flinn). … Speaking of ballpark dirt, look at the odd infield cutout pattern at Griffith Stadium in 1933 (from Charles Rogers). … The rock band the Black Keys are sponsoring a Little League team in Akron, Ohio, so the team’s jerseys have BNOB — that’s band name on back (from Phillip Garza). … SI put together their picks for the best and worst looks at Wimbledon (thanks, Brinke). … Here’s a Mariners uni history site, plus they have some good Pilots stuff (from Leo Strawn Jr.). … Dortmund — that’s a German soccer team — did a crazy kit unveiling over the weekend, showing a depiction of their new jersey composed of 80,000 flowers (from Brett Stone). … Here’s a look at some of the oldest company logos in America (from David Firestone). … Unusual look yesterday for Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians, who went with one white batting glove and one red (from Josh Smith). … Phil already provided detailed coverage of Saturday’s Rays fauxback game in yesterday’s entry. But here’s a detail he missed: The Rays’ high-cuffery was so complete that even pajama pioneer George Hendrick, who now coaches first base for Tampa Bay, went high-cuffed. … You know how ads are sometimes projected onto the field during televised soccer games? At least one TV network is now doing that for MLB games. Here’s hoping someone puts a stop to that pronto. … New college hockey jerseys for Providence (from Erik Sundermann). … Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann’s name is misspelled on some stupid shirt nobody needs to buy anyway (from William Yurasko). … Some high school in California has over 20 different football uni combos, courtesy of you-know-who. Did I mention this a high school? (Phil again.) … Recently spotted by Mark Kaplowitz: a portable boiler the with the New York Giants “ny” logo. … Here are the jerseys for the Korean baseball all-star game (from Dan Kurtz).