[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from Dan Tarrant, who has explored the history of how sports uniforms became familiar sights at the White House. Enjoy. ”” PL]
By Dan Tarrant
In addition to rings, trophies, and maybe a few nice monetary bonuses, national championship winners at the college or professional level can expect an invitation to the White House, where the President of the United States will honor them with a ceremony at the Rose Garden. And as a gesture of appreciation, it has become tradition for the honorees to present the President with a customized team jersey.
But how did this tradition start?
The first championship team to receive a White House invitation was the 1924 Washington Senators, who were greeted by Calvin Coolidge but presumably didn’t have a jersey customized for him (as names were not on backs during that era). John F. Kennedy first hosted an NBA championship team in 1963 (the Boston Celtics), and a photograph of the event does not indicate that the team offered any Celtics garb for Jack’s collection.
Gerald Ford extended the honor to the college ranks in 1976 by inviting the Indiana Hoosiers basketball squad. In this photograph, coach Bobby Knight appears to be presenting Ford with an autographed team ball.
In early 1980, Jimmy Carter hosted a joint ceremony for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates to celebrate their recent titles. The teams gifted Carter with a Pirates hat and Steelers “Terrible Towel,” which appears to mark the first time a uni-related element was presented to a President. Carter was also given T-shirts, but not team jerseys, from such NCAA visitors as Georgia Tech and Louisville.
It was Ronald Reagan who expanded the tradition of hosting championship teams, and it is here that we find our first examples of team jerseys customized for the President. The earliest example I found was when the Gipper hosted the 1983 NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers, although it is not clear if this jersey featured Reagan’s name on the back. The earliest confirmed customized example came in 1985, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave the President a Lakers jersey during a ceremony that took place the day after the team clinched the title in Boston. (These days the events happen months afterwards.) Even then, jerseys were not yet standard gifts, as Reagan also received a jacket and hat from the Kansas City Royals and even George Gipp’s Notre Dame letterman’s sweater.
(Update: Subsequent research has confirmed that Reagan’s 1983 jersey was indeed personalized.)
Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, broke new ground by being the first President to host a Stanley Cup champion (the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins) and also was the first to honor a team not based in the United States when the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays visited the White House.
(Update: Additional research has revealed that the first Stanley Cup winners to visit the White House were the 1983 Islanders, who were hosted by President Reagan. They gave him an Islanders rug and a stick.)
Most of the jerseys Reagan and Bush received featured the numeral 1. By the time Bill Clinton took office, however, we begin to see his ordinal number, 42, or sometimes the last two digits of the year. As the 1990s became the 2000s, this would often result in a jersey with a leading zero, although when LSU visited the White House to celebrate their 2007 national title, they presented President Bush with a No. 7 jersey. As George W. Bush was commonly known as “43” to distinguish him from his father, the vast majority of his jerseys used that number instead of No. 1 or the year.
Barack Obama is currently the record-holder for hosting teams, having met with 86 college and professional squads at the White House during his tenure. It is also noteworthy that his final official public appearance as President of the United States was the ceremony honoring his hometown Chicago Cubs. Interestingly, the Cubs more recently visited the Trump White House, becoming (probably) the first championship team to be honored by two sitting presidents.
While most of the uniforms presented to presidents over the years have fit the standard template, there are numerous unusual examples as well (some of these jerseys were presented at campaign events or other occasions aside from champion ceremonies):
- In 2012, Obama received a No. 23 jersey from the Dallas Mavericks. The significance of that number is unclear.
- Obama also honored two teams from the past, receiving a No. 72 “Undefeated” jersey from the 1972 Miami Dolphins and a No. 85 jersey from the 1985 Chicago Bears, whose originally scheduled visit with Ronald Reagan was cancelled after the Challenger disaster.
- When Obama hosted the 2010 Duke Blue Devils, he was presented with a plaque (which appears to have been made from a piece of a basketball floor) and a framed jersey.
- In addition to a jersey, Obama received an appropriately numbered helmet from the 2016 Alabama football team.
- First Ladies have sometimes gotten into the act. Nancy Reagan was given a ’Skins jersey to promote her anti-drug campaign. Joe Montana also presented Mrs. Reagan (and somebody who obviously was not President Reagan) with matching his-and-hers 49ers jerseys.
- Michelle Obama received a “FLOTUS” hockey sweater from the 2012 Chicago Blackhawks, although curiously it was not a team jersey.
- Vice Presidents have participated in the custom as well. Here is Mike Pence with a gold-numbered Cubs jersey, which he received just last month. Al Gore, Joe Biden, and Dick Cheney also received team swag over the years.
- Although she wasn’t First Lady at the time, Senator Hillary Clinton was presented with a “Hillary” Steelers jersey during a campaign stop in 2008.
- Reagan received both home and away “The Gipper” jerseys from the New York Giants in 1987.
- In 2008, the Detroit Red Wings created team sweaters for both George W. Bush and his father.
- In a rare case of political rivals being given jerseys at the same time, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole got Kansas Jayhawks tanks during the former president’s visit to Dole’s home state. Nice touch to make sure that Dole got the home jersey and Clinton the away version.
- Most of the football jerseys presented to Presidents are obviously of the “replica” type, with real sleeves and tailored to be worn without pads. However, the Clemson Tigers recently choose to present President Trump with actual game-cut versions.
- The 1992 Dallas Cowboys figured that Bill Clinton would be fine with an Emmitt Smith jersey.
- And finally, here is a great photo illustration from The Onion depicting Michelle Obama cleaning out jerseys from her husband’s closet as they prepare to leave the White House.
For more information about the tradition of presidents being presented with jerseys and other sports-related gifts, check out this 2007 Uni Watch piece by Vince Grzegorek.
’Skins Watch: The Exeter Chiefs — that’s a UK rugby union team — has come under criticism for its team name and headdress-wearing fans (from @stumpy7780). … The Australian national rugby union team has unveiled its first-ever indigenous peoples jersey (from Adam Ingle).
Baseball News: The DC Metro is now selling Nats-themed fare cards. … I’m quoted pretty extensively in this article about the Astros’ uniform history. … The Toledo Mud Hens will wear jerseys on Aug. 26 that are based on a 100-year-old sign (from Nicholas John). … Nats skipper Dusty Baker was wearing a decidedly non-MLB-approved cap at a presser yesterday. Turns out it’s for a California-based fruit and nut distributor (from John Yerrick and Darren Rovell). … This is pretty awesome: a 1963 shot of Hank Aaron with FIOB! His brother Tommie was also on the Braves at the time. That’s Roger Craig wearing the Mets uni, which didn’t yet have the front number that would eventually be added in 1965 (big thanks to Phil). … For reasons that aren’t clear, at least to me, the A’s are doing a Rickey Henderson jersey giveaway but are using an “Oakland” script on a home white jersey. Weird (from Richard Paloma). … Dodgers 3B Justin Turner really needs to button up (from Matthew Crooks). … As we’ve discussed many times, it’s standard for MLBers to wear their big league helmets while on minor league rehab assignments. That’s because minor league helmets are all double-flapped, but MLBers don’t have to follow that rule while on rehab. But here’s a new one: Mets P Josh Smoke, currently rehabbing with the single-A St. Lucie Mets, wore his big league BP cap yesterday. What’s up with that? (From A.J. Frey.) … Even if you hate the DH, as I do, this pro-DH T-shirt worn by Padres OF Bobby Brown is pretty great.
NFL and College Football News: A man sentenced to death for the murder of his wife and a handyman wore a Tony Romo throwback jersey to his sentencing (from K. Richardson). … USA Today’s advice to high school players who are considering which college to attend: don’t base your decision on the uniform (thanks, Phil). … Wisconsin players wore throwback uniforms, including long-sleeved jerseys, for a poster shoot. … Here are the uni number assignments for Iowa’s incoming freshmen. … New BFBS and green alternates in the works for Miami (from Matt Porter).
Hockey News: Buried within this piece is the news that the AHL teams “will wear light jerseys at home until the Christmas break, and dark jerseys at home after the Christmas break.” Not positive, but I think that’s an extension of the existing policy, not a new thing (from @sparker089).
Basketball News: The Raptors’ jersey advertiser will be Sun Life Financial, an insurance company based in Toronto. … In addition, the box for the Canadian version of the NBA 2K18 video game features a Photoshopped image that appears to show some small changes to the Raptors’ red uniform. It’s not yet clear whether those changes will actually appear on the court. … In a related item, it appears that a Chinese social media site may have leaked catalog images of the new Raptors and Suns road jerseys, although their legitimacy is not yet confirmed. … Blood jersey alert: This video showing highlights from a 1989 Lakers/Kings game shows Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wearing a NNOB No. 8 jersey. It also provides a good view of the Kings’ NOBs at the time, which were positioned below the numbers (good find by @oafhamper). … …New floor design for Yale (from Nolan Rich). … Three items from our own Mike Chamernik: The Grizzlies are taking the unusual step of retiring Zach Randolph’s No. 50, even though he’s still an active player. … Paul George will wear No. 13 for the Thunder. “He was once 24, but changed to 13 to fit the nickname PG-13,” says Mike. … Newly acquired P.J. Tucker will wear No. 2 for the Rockets.
Soccer News: New shirt for Piast Gliwice (from Ed Å»elaski”). … A player for the German team FC Kaiserslautern wore goggles the other day. … The Netherlands is hosting the UEFA Women’s European Championship later this month. To further promote the event, the Royal Dutch Football Association and Nike held an event revealing a logo “sex change,” with team’s crest changing from a lion to a lioness. The new uniform detail will debut in their Euro preparation match against Wales on July 8 (from Saurel Jean, Jr.). … New away kit for Oxford United (from Nate Hargis).
Grab Bag: Wimbledon has been plagued this year by mating winged ants. … New shoes for UNC wrestling (from James Gilbert). … New volleyball uniforms for Minnesota (thanks, Phil). … Female reporters in DC have been barred from some parts of Capitol Hill for wearing sleeveless dresses. … The work of the great Americana photographer John Margolies, who specialized in pics of diners, gas stations, drive-in movie theaters, motels, billboards, and the like, is now available online. Highly, highly recommended. … There’s something really messed up when a new high school announces its team colors and logo and proudly declares that it’s “a great brand” (from Josh Claywell). … Cal’s rowing crew has a tradition of having the bowman wearing his jersey backwards, so the “C,” which normally appears on the chest, is on his back (from Matt Kowalski). … New rugby uniforms for Racing 92 (from @stumpy7780).