More than two decades ago, professional sports teams had two uniforms – a primarily white jersey and a vibrant jersey, which used emphasized the team’s color scheme. It was before the days of marketability, when companies hadn’t truly tapped the merchandising well, so franchises weren’t constantly shoving new uniforms and on-field gear down the throats of audiences. But then, somewhere in the early 2000s, the landscape began to change and companies like Reebok and Nike began pumping out merchandise, setting their sights on fans.
It clearly worked, as it’s one of the driving forces behind professional sports today. In 2015, sports merchandising generated just over $20 billion worldwide in revenue but to keep that number from dipping, apparel companies are constantly pumping out new-look uniforms, alternate jerseys and yearly sideline apparel. And many seem to be black. Somewhere in this massive merchandising boom came the black jersey. We’re not talking about teams that prominently feature black in their color scheme – like the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago White Sox, Boston Bruins and San Antonio Spurs – but rather, teams that all too often abandon their look and tradition just to incorporate black into their look.
Sure, we know that there’s much more important things we could be griping about when it comes to professional sports, like the amount players are paid, using taxpayer money to build stadiums and even the cost of parking at certain events – have you been to an NFL game recently? But no, we’re turning our focus to these bastardized looks that have thrown tradition out the window and subjugated fans ride to along with the latest trends. We might be in the minority but we’ll just come right out and say it: we’re absolutely sick and tired of the black jersey and the fact that the majority of franchises continue to wear them. So, how has this trend managed to become an integral part of today’s professional sports? Some of it might not have anything to do with looks, it might go much deeper.
According to a recent psychology study, black uniforms for the NHL and NFL, in particular, were perceived as “more malevolent” than teams with non-black uniforms during the 1970s and 1980s. In the same vein, teams from those two leagues weren’t just more likely to act increasingly violent when wearing black but, also, were more penalized as well – four minutes per game more in the NHL. That could be attributed to the fact that dark jerseys are more visible on the ice but, not to delve too much into the human brain, a major factor could be that referees have an unconscious bias when it comes to black.
“There is this very strong cultural association that comes through in how we think about colors in terms of white being associated with good and black with bad,” University of Florida psychologist Gregory Webster told NPR in an interview. “Many of us are raised from childhood with some of these associations. And over time, we develop a kind of cognitive bias. That’s been shown time and time again in social psychology.”
Let’s be honest though, when it comes right down to it, jerseys are chosen because of the potential of bringing teams and the apparel companies a lot of money. But how many teams are ditching their signature color for a much more blah black look these days?
Let’s use the NFL as an example, more specifically this recent color rush uniform model.
Initially rolled out prior to the 2012 season, when Nike took over for Reebok as the league’s uniform supplier, the concept behind color rush is matching jerseys and pants to create one giant blob of color. Some are awesome, some make us need to adjust our televisions, typical with a new line of uniforms. Of the 32 teams, four feature black color rush jerseys – the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers – and of those four teams, just Pittsburgh has used black as a primary color since its inception. That might not sound like much but throw in other teams that also now rock a black jersey like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers and that’s a lot of black. The NFL is not the only guilty party, however. In MLB, the Miami Marlins just unveiled new uniforms – black. The NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks are playing in the Winter Classic at the University of Notre Dame and their uniform – black.
And there’s the NBA, which might just be the biggest culprit of this recent black jersey trend. This season, the league launched basically a league-wide effort for each team to unveil a new alternate jersey. This line, dubbed City Edition, consists of 10 jerseys that are mostly black. We can’t knock the Minnesota Timberwolves’ purple rain Prince jerseys, those are amazing. But it almost just feels like it’s become the lazy go-to look when a franchise needs something new. Since they’re out of ideas, they just make a black jersey.
The most frustrating part, until recently when teams started to really venture outside of the box when creating a black uniform, is that the majority of these are all so ho-hum, with little originality and a vanilla look that makes most of them look exactly like their counterpart. Enough already with the black jerseys, stop selling us on a look we are tired of seeing. Go back to colors, or better yet, just go back to vintage jerseys, when it was either just white or vibrant team colors. Sure, you want to make money but fans are sick of the ever-changing jersey cycle – which often includes black. Well, at least we are!