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A Friend of a Friend of the Working Class

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Boise State unveiled new football uniforms yesterday (lots of additional photos here), and the jerseys have an interesting feature: Inside the blue collar are the words “Blue Collar.”

It’s all very meta, right? It’s also the latest and most explicit example of a trend that has been percolating in the football uni-verse for a while now: the fetishizing of the working class. Here are some other recent examples:

•  Oregon’s jerseys for the 2016 season opener against UC Davis had blue collars and were touted as showcasing the team’s “blue-collar ethics.”

•  Kentucky’s new uniforms for the 2016 season featured blue collars, supposedly “to emphasize the work ethic of the people of Kentucky.”

•  When the Browns unveiled their current uniforms in 2015, we were told that the contrast-colored stitching on the jerseys was “to exemplify the City of Cleveland’s hard-working, blue-collar demeanor.”

And so on. We all get the underlying point: Football is basically a form of rough physical labor, so a football player is closer in spirit to, say, a construction worker or a factory grunt than he is to some pencil-pusher who “works” by sitting on his ass all day (like, say, me). Fair enough, although there are all sorts of ironies involved there, like the high salaries, the high ticket prices, and so on. One can only imagine what must be going through the minds of the Nike factory employees — real blue collar workers — as they stitch the words “Blue Collar” onto jerseys that will be worn by highly privileged athletes (or purchased by highly privileged consumers).

The incessant repetition of the term “blue collar” also reflects a conveniently selective approach to class consciousness. Or to put it another way, I’m not expecting to see “Join a Union” or “Workers of the World, Unite” on a jersey’s inner collar anytime soon. Sticking with “blue collar,” either as a literal inscription or as an implied ethos, provides the comforting fantasy of honest workaday toil without any strings attached, which basically turns it into a patronizing caricature. This in turn reflects one of the great shifts in American discourse over the past two generations: The terms of class struggle are now largely perceived to be cultural, not economic. So “blue collar” is now less of a socioeconomic term and more of an attitude, a lifestyle, a canvas onto which you can project whichever values you choose. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that you can now stitch “Blue Collar” onto a football jersey and people will think it makes sense, even though it doesn’t.

Where did those terms “blue collar” and “white collar” originate anyway? There’s good info on that here and here — both highly recommended.

As an aside: My introduction to “collar”-based terminology came when I was about eight years old and read this comic strip (click to enlarge):

I had no idea what that meant and had to ask a grown-up to explain the joke to me.

Update: Our own Mike Chamernik points out that the “blue collar” design trope extends beyond football. Here are two recent examples from the NBA:

•  The explainer page for the Pistons’ new logo, which was unveiled earlier this month, refers to the logo’s blue outline as a “blue collar” and says it’s “representative of the blue-collar work ethic of the city of Detroit.”

•  The Bucks’ current uniforms, which were unveiled in 2015, include a blue stripe on the inner collar, which is supposedly “representative of the blue collar work ethic of not only the Bucks, but also of the city and state that the team proudly represents.”

Finally: I pinched today’s headline from the great aristocracy-rock band the Upper Crust. I hereby surrender the floor to them.

(Major thanks to Jason Hillyer for locating the Peanuts strip for me.)

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Collector’s Corner
By Brinke Guthrie

This would look perfect at Uni Watch HQ: a 1970s Mets light switchplate. I had a pair of these, for the Bengals and Reds, and you see the NFL ones on a regular basis on eBay. For some reason you don’t see quite as many of them for baseball, but I did find a Cubs version right here, so there you go. [Note that the plate has a version of the Mets’ skyline logo that hasn’t been used in decades. Details here. ”” PL]

Now for the rest of this week’s picks:

•  There are certain items that really hit home for me as far as vintage NFL items go. Anything Dave Boss, of course. Those helmet goalpost kits, too. Sears stuff, naturally. And of course the Chiquita stickers. I remember going up to the local Winn-Dixie, peering through the banana pile, looking for a particular team. Here’s a full set (and I rue the day I passed up one of these sets that was actually framed and matted).

•  Did I say Sears? Well, then check out the team logos on this 1970s NFL twin size blanket. Those same graphics were used on many a product in the 1970s.

•  Well, at least give ’em points for trying to decorate this LA Rams gumball helmet properly.

•  This 1970s San Diego Chargers ski cap is in pretty good shape.

•  Got one more ski cap for you, this time featuring Bucco Bruce on the patch.

•  Here’s a box of hockey tape made by Tuck Tape brand. I guess this is the tape you use to wind around the stick blade.

•  I provide this 1970s football trading card of Patriots placekicker John Smith to illustrate just how silly cards looked back then when the maker of said card line didn’t have a license to use team logos.

•  Unusual look to this 1980s MLB Icee cup. Rather than just show the team logo, they picture the team’s jacket.

•  Fairly large facemask on this 1970s Seattle Seahawks helmet plaque.

•  What’s curious about this 1960s pennant is the use of the word “the,” as in The Philadelphia Eagles. Can you think of any other teams that did that?

•  Another helmet plaque for you, this time for the Browns, and it includes the phantom “CB” logo on the side.

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The Ticker
By Alex Hider

Baseball News:  On to the next one: The MLB is already hawking its  Independence Day merch (from  Phil). … The Brewers will give away Packers-colored “mb” caps on June 21. … Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox usually wears New Balance cleats, but was spotted wearing Adidas yesterday. Supporting or disdaining the New Balance brand has become something of a Trump-related political issue in recent months, although it’s unclear whether that has anything to do with Bogaerts’s move (from Red Sox News). … Paul’s ESPN column last week was a review of the captain’s “C” on MLB jerseys. According to Derek Ryan, Paul Konerko of the White Sox was offered the chance to wear the “C” when he was made captain in 2006 but declined. … The  Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan will wear “Be Ambitious” jerseys nine times throughout the 2017 season (from  Graveyard Baseball). … The Giants had their annual “Until There’s a Cure” promotion, with players wearing red ribbons, back on May 21, but P Jeff Samardzija still had a ribbon on his jersey for the first inning of last night’s game (from Brian Dwyer). … It’s common to bring a baseball glove to the ballpark, but how about a hockey goalie’s trapper? (From Mike Powers.)

NFL News:  Reader Brendan Gargano was flipping through a book called “American Trademark Designs” and came across this Bears logo, which was labeled as a “proposed new mark,” designed in 1973. Lots of stuff there: The bear, the font, the inclusion of “THE.” Anyone know anything else about this logo? … Some good non-NFL stuff from @PhillyPartTwo: Remember the USFL? Made for some  great buttons. He also has a football from an XFL launch party in 2001.

Hockey News: According to a local Buffalo radio station, the Sabres’ uniform changes next season involve lightening the shade of  blue, removing silver from the palate, and removing the piping on the jersey ”” which would all be very good things (from  Drew Celestino). …  NHL analyst and former goalie Kevin Weekes  donned Penguins G Matt Murray’s pads while shooting a Stanley Cup Final promo yesterday (from The Goal Net). …  Check out these classic hockey stamps and rub-ons from the 1970s (from  Chris Mizzoni). … These horse racing silks are inspired by the uniforms of the old Hartford Whalers (from  Brian Short).

Basketball News: Minnesota’s D-League G-League team is changing its name from the Iowa Energy to the  Iowa Wolves. The new visual identity is based on the Timberwolves’ recently updated logo.

Soccer News:  Valencia of La Liga in Spain will have a  new home kit for next season (from  Ed Zelaski). … Southampton of the EPL will also have a new home kit next season as well (also from  Ed Zelaski). … Also from Ed: New camouflage third shirt for St. Pauli. … For all the Real Madrid superfans out there, this is the casket for you (from  Ted Arnold). … New home kit for Manchester City.

Grab Bag: Nike will keep Tiger Woods as a spokesman in the wake of his DUI arrest. Denver Gregg  notes  the headline on that story reads, “Nike says it will continue to endorse Tiger Woods” ”” who is sponsoring whom? … Here’s a story about an old photo of Steve Prefontaine wearing an early Nike sweatshirt with a backwards swoosh (from  Jeremy Butcher). … Googly eyes make everything better (from  David Sonny). …  China has ordered that Emirates flight attendants from Taiwan must stop wearing Taiwanese flag pins (from  Nolan Reagan).

Comments (46)

    Pretty obvious to me that the Mets switch cover image is Richie Ashburn. So the vintage must be early 60’s.

    Just because they’re using an old image doesn’t mean that the plate itself is old. Sometimes the same image gets used/recycled for many years.

    Somebody sells (or used to) DC team logo switchplates at the Eastern Market flea market. I haven’t been there in a while, but I meant to get some for my kids room.

    XFL Launch party – I remember a table of bros doing an XFL Fantasy Draft at the Vienna Inn once.

    Since the average Nike factory worker is a 10 year old Asian girl she probably isn’t able to read the English words she sews into the collars, or even know the meaning of the phrase. After all, the selling of polyester shirts for hundreds of dollars made by sweatshop labor making pennies a day is one of the reasons we all love Nike so much.

    That’s why I love the Nike equality ads…only if you’re of a specific ilk, and buy their products made by slave labor…advertised by millionaires…you know, for the suckers who need a slogan…then we are all equals.

    It’s well beyond the point of ridiculous with all the explanations about uniform features. The Browns cross stitching symbolizing whatever it’s supposed to symbolize, the blue collars, the Kings’ S pattern “runs horizontally through the jersey to reflect the inseparable link between the team and its community”.

    A fun game would be for someone to take all the hilarious explanations about each uniform’s feature and have people guess what team said that.

    If you have to explain it, I don’t care to know about it.

    I’ll construe my own meaning out of it (or not).
    Just like REM lyrics!

    Anyone want to guess the over/under on the number f pictures of Boise State players holding “blue collar” sledgehammers on the school’s website?

    That is some great news about the Buffalo Sabres uniforms. A positive way to start the day with that news! Look forward to seeing them.

    One thing I appreciated about Buffalo’s original set of uniforms was how, using a color scheme identical to the Blues, they were able to create a set you would never confuse between the two. I’m not able to explain why I thought it was an improvement in 1978 when they added extra crests to the shoulders; personal quirk, I guess.

    Maybe someone could answer for me: why did they choose the “Sabres” spelling and not “Sabers”?

    Yes indeed, they had the uniforms right the first time, at their inception in 1970, and every tweak since then has been grievous to someone like myself who appreciated the original design…


    Reader Jason Hillyer has found the Peanuts strip I was referring to. I’ve added it to today’s lede, and here’s the link for those who don’t want to scroll back up to see it:

    The blue collar extends to the NBA. The blue ring in the Pistons new logo is called a “blue collar”


    Also, when the Bucks unveiled new unis two summers ago, the blue stripe on the inside of the collar was said to be a “blue collar”


    I don’t know that it ever made it to the uniforms, but the Pacers playoff slogan (and I’ve got the giveaway T-shirts to prove it) has been “Blue Collar, Gold Swagger.”


    The “Blue Collar” or “Lunch Bucket” analogies get extremely tiresome especially during the NFL Draft (Yes that’s you Kiper, McShea, Mayock)

    Thanks, J.D. Someone else already found it and sent it my way. I’ve added it to today’s entry.

    For those who are wondering: No, I wasn’t yet alive in 1955. But our house had a lot of Charlie Brown paperbacks with old strips, so that’s where I saw this one.

    “Finally: I pinched the today’s headline”
    – Drop “the”

    “Paul Konerko of the White Sox was offered the chance to wear the “C” in when”
    – Drop “in”

    “Some good stuff non-NFL stuff from @PhillyPartTwo: Remember the USFL?”
    – Drop the first “stuff”

    The entire blue collar vs white collar issue is an exercise in class warfare that we should all ignore. The idea that one group of workers hold more value than another group is pointless. Furthermore the idea that one group is “harder working” than the other is silly. I’ve worn both collars.
    I also have many friends and acquaintances who are on both sides of the work force. Some work their ass off, some are lazy and do the absolute minimum to keep their jobs and some fall in between. The color of ones collar is of little correlation to how hard he/she works.
    Unfortunately a certain political party insist on promoting class warfare and lately it’s to their own detriment. Having the whole blue collar issue invade the
    uni-verse is very disappointing.

    Is the player on that Mets light switch cover supposed to be drag bunting? Of all the possible baseball poses they could have chosen, they chose a drag bunt?!?!


    That’s what I assumed (and thought the same as you).

    Otherwise it’s a nice olde-timey split grip on the bat.

    Why no actual analysis on BSU’s new uni’s? Like piping/template changes, different shade of orange, and whether or not the pants & tops will be mix & match like before

    Because I didn’t find any of that as interesting as the collar inscription. Frankly, if not for the collar inscription, this uniform would have merited a sentence or two in the Ticker.

    But all of those details you mentioned are fair game for discussion here in the comments — go for it.

    I would love to have one of those with the original plain Seattle helmets from 1976

    The most not blue collar people in these student-athletes’ lives according to popular tropes? That would be the professors teaching their classes. This “blue collar” uniform trope invites students to shun intellectualism and the values higher education values instead of embracing the complexities of identity: that a football player can work in a factory in the summer, and play football, and excel in the classroom. It invites them to see intellectualism as a violation of their true cultural identity — a working class man — instead of considering that labor is at the heart of intellectual work, though that labor might involve long hours of reading closely and not long hours of football drills. The binary created undercuts the real socioeconomic benefits that can be afforded to a student-athlete while also painting as non-desirable the cultural values privileged by intellectuals. Simply, fuck that shit.

    Thanks for pointing out the ludicrous nature of the “blue collar work ethic” bullshit permeating sports marketing. Living in Cleveland, I’ve had to listen to that crap for years and I’d always thought it shamelessly pandered to blue collar workers while insulting those in white collar positions.

    There’s no doubt that pro athletes work hard (in most cases), but insinuating that professional athletes and their salaries are on a level playing field with blue collar workers – while trying to sell them tickets and merch – is a slap in the face to folks who, in many cases, live paycheck-to-paycheck with little to no benefits or job security. It may have been the case years ago, but it most certainly is not these days and hasn’t been for decades.

    C’mon man. Pro athletes are JUST like you and me. They put on their pre-dirtied jeans one leg at a time.


    The Oakland A’s avoided the whole blue vs white thing with their Green Collar Baseball.

    Now there’s even a rap song. link

    In fairness, I’d bet that more members of the Boise State football team will end up in blue collar jobs than in the NFL.

    I’m an avid collector of gumball helmets. I have also bought many on eBay. I always cringe when I see the stickers on wrong. Not as bad as when you see the white stripe applied to a helmet without stripes, but still. I bet that’s an Oilers helmet though.

    A college women’s soccer team I do some work for at a fairly well-to-do private school has used “blue collar” as one of a number of unofficial/semi-official motivational phrases for some time, maybe six or seven years. Being someone who comes from a less well-to-do background, I never minded it, but I guess I never thought about it the way today’s article does.

    My biggest knock on the school is that it sometimes seems to cater to a lot of well-off, somewhat-spoiled kids. I sometimes even think it subconsciously pushes the narrative that the well-off should go to school together such that they keep the unwashed from becoming part of their ilk — the rich associate with, make friends with and even marry among the other rich, thus keeping the power of wealth and influence consolidated. It’s interesting to me how a lot of great students from around the state where the school is located can’t get in because the school is too expensive, while a lot of borderline or iffy students who are “legacy” folks (sons or daughters of alumni), or come from backgrounds of money, seem to get in quite easily. That’s my biggest issue with the place.

    As such, I didn’t mind anything that tried to convince the girls on the team that, in that milieu, they have to work harder than the others to succeed. If that’s a lesson they need, and a message the school has to teach, however they do it is fine by me. This piece made me think about that, though.

    If anything, the sad statement that comes out of “blue collar” becoming a “thing” in the sports world is what it reminds us about who gets to the highest levels of sports nowadays. A few things to remember:

    – There aren’t as many scholarships in college athletics as you might think. FBS football teams get 85 in D1, but often carry many more kids than that. That means a lot of kids are playing and paying their way through school as well, particularly in sports other than football, and college isn’t getting cheaper.

    – To get to the level of playing high-level athletics, it seems like you need position camps, speed camps, recruiting services, maybe personal training or at least a gym membership, who-knows-what kind of equipment, and so on. Talent plays in, but more and more, sports seems to be becoming more the realm of the well-to-do, at least at youth levels.

    – As both playing and even attending sporting events becomes less accessible to folks who work more-manual jobs for less money, and more the realm of those who are moreso in the white-collar world — specifically the children of kids who are at management level, bankers, doctors, lawyers, etc., jobs that wouldn’t be considered blue-collar. By using “blue collar” as a phrase, I almost feel like you’re acknowledging that it’s not a thing most people closely involved with sports are.

    So yeah, this piece made me feel a little less comfortable with using “blue collar” as a motivational phrase. But, grand scheme, it’s still nowhere close to native imagery or uni ads for greed’s sake in terms of tipping my “this feels wrong” meter. I think it’s because it’s done moreso in respect for that work ethic than as an appropriation.

    Last thing: Paul, I wouldn’t consider you white-collar just because your job doesn’t necessarily involve manual labor. You work. You write. You have to effort to get information, site sponsors and whatnot. You haven’t made it off what you know, the work of previous generations or privilege. You scrap and scrape. I think there are folks in cube farms, churning out computer code or producing reports, who can reasonably be considered “blue collar” in the new millennium. For me, it’s more the folks who largely are paid, and paid handsomely, not to do, but to make decisions on what others end up doing, who are in the white-collar realm.

    I’m pretty sure I know who wrote this. Thanks, D, for the thoughtful commentary.

    And hey, I never said I was white collar. Just said I sit on my ass all day, which is true. By most socioeconomic standards, I’d be considered part of the professional class (although I work at home, which is a little more unusual for professional class members). I’m neither proud nor ashamed of that. It’s just who I am and what I do.

    Great breakdown on the “blue collar” cliche, Paul. Some of your strongest writing yet.

    It is interesting that “blue collar” used to be kind of a slur, but like many slurs has been adopted as a symbol of pride. People once wanted to get out of “blue-collar” work to get higher paying and less taxing “white collar” jobs but now as you pointed out the term is often used to humblebrag about how hard you work.

    Aside from the “meaning” behind the blue collars, I think the contrast looks really good on the white jersey. Those will be some damn good looking unis. Now, if only we can learn to win the conference again, hell, I’ll take just the division.

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