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Sartorial Justice: Do Some Unis Deserve to Win (or Lose)?

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We all know about poetic justice, and this year there’s been a lot of talk about social justice. But today I want to introduce a new term: sartorial justice.

Some quick background: I’ve always maintained that there’s no connection, either real or superstitious, between changing uniforms and on-field success. For every team that wins a title after introducing new uniforms, there are countless counter-examples of teams that played more or less the same (or worse) after getting a uni makeover.

That said, however, I often find myself lapsing into the mindset of equating a franchise’s new look with its overall operational competence. When a team introduces a lousy new uniform set, for example, it’s easy to think, “Wow, if they can’t even get their uniforms right, that probably means they’re really gonna suck on the field too.” Similarly, when a team introduces a good new uni set, it’s tempting to think, “Now there’s a front office that has its shit together! If they’ve gotten their uniforms right, that bodes well for the roster, the coaching, and so on. They’re a well-oiled machine!”

This can definitely affect how I feel about a team on a season-to-season basis. When the Browns introduced that godawful uni set in 2015, for example, I wasn’t exactly rooting for them to lose (I have no emotional stake in the Browns either way), but I kinda felt like they deserved to lose. Lousy uniform decisions, lousy team — it all sort of made sense. That’s what I mean by sartorial justice. (And if they had performed really well in that uni set, that would’ve been a sartorial injustice.)

Of course, sartorial justice doesn’t always work out in such a neat and tidy way, as we can see by looking at the two NFL teams in Los Angeles. While I know there are outliers and contrarians among you, I think most folks reading this would agree that the Chargers knocked it out of the park with their new uniforms, while the Rams struck out. And how have those two teams fared so far this season?

Let’s start with the Chargers. They may look good out there, but they’re 3-9, which puts them in last place in the AFC West. (They’re at a particularly low ebb right now, having just gotten shellacked at home, 45-0, by the Pats.) With a uni set like that, they deserve to be better. Clearly a case of sartorial injustice.

As for the Rams, mono-dishwater and all, they’re 8-4, good for first place in the NFC West, and will likely advance to the postseason. We’ve always been told that justice is blind, and that must really be the case regarding this team.

And what about the other NFL teams that underwent significant redesigns this season? Let’s take a look:

• Browns: Cleveland is 9-3 and will likely make the postseason for the first time since 2002. They were 6-10 last season, so their on-field turnaround coincides with their aesthetic revival. And sure enough, just like I felt they deserved to lose over the last five seasons, I’ve been feeling like they deserve to win this year. A textbook case of sartorial justice.

• Buccaneers: The Bucs are currently 7-5, after going 7-9 last season. That feels about right — their uniforms are better than the alarm clock set (duh), but there’s still room for improvement (read: ditch the mono-pewter and bring back Bucco Bruce). Sartorial justice.

• Falcons: Atlanta is 4-8. Another one that feels about right. Sartorial justice.

• Patriots: The Pats are 6-6. Brady is gone, their dynasty is clearly over. They are now a meh team with a meh uni set. Sartorial justice.

(I’m not including the Colts, because their uni changes were so small. Also not including Washington, because their uni changes were made at the last minute and were basically forced upon them by outside circumstances, not by aesthetic considerations.)

So at least for this season in the NFL, sartorial justice has largely been served. Now we just have to get things straightened out in L.A.

Again, I’d never go so far as to claim that a uniform switcheroo caused a change in a team’s on-field fortunes, but I definitely feel like some teams deserve to have their win-loss record reflect their uni-related choices.

This should be a fun topic for discussion. What examples of sartorial justice or injustice (in any sport, not just the NFL) can you think of? And how do you feel when one of your favorite teams unveils a lousy uniform set — if they play well in the crummy threads, does that make you sort of cringe just a teeny bit? If they play poorly, do feel like there’s a certain karmic logic to that?

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Start ’em young: As most of you know, I love kids’ uni drawings, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one quite like this one, which longtime Uni Watch contributor Tris Wykes says he created in 1976, when he was six years old.

“My mom, who knew nothing about sports, provided the captions,” says Tris. “I really like the ambulance and its attendants rushing to help Fran ‘Tarkington’ with his ‘suffered’ knee.”

This masterpiece was one of several that Tris recently rediscovered. “They were in a box with childhood photos and drawings that my mom had saved,” he says. “I recall them, but only vaguely.” Here are the others:

“The big debate now,” says Tris, “is whether the striped thing in that last drawing is a referee or a tick.”

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ITEM! New “family-pack” membership raffle: Reader Jeff Worth won one of the donated memberships I recently raffled off and has decided to pay it forward with a very interesting donation of his own: He’s generously purchased three memberships, with the proviso that they be given away as a “family pack.” In other words, the winner of this raffle will get to order a card for him- or herself and also for two family members.

This will be a one-day raffle. No geographic entry restrictions, but please enter only if you have two family members who’d enjoy having the two additional cards (or at least humor you about it). To enter, send an email to the raffle in-box by 8pm Eastern tonight. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the winners of yesterday’s magnet raffle are Mark Wilkes, John Horn, Karl Newkirk, Ryan Burns, Matt Cann, and Adam Walter. Congrats to them, and thanks to Matt Mosca and Rich Picardini for sponsoring this one.

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Hockey/cycling reminder: If you want to get in on the latest batch of Uni Watch hockey or cycling jerseys, you must get your pre-order in by this Friday. All jerseys are customizable with your choice of number and NOB. Get the full scoop here.

The rest of our fine Uni Watch products — baseball caps, toques, T-shirts, pins, cufflinks, patches, and plenty more — are listed here.

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IMPORTANT “Collect ’em all!” reminder: If you’ve collected all 12 of this year’s monthly Uni Watch Pin Club pins, you’re eligible to get our 2020 All-Star pin as a free bonus.

If you qualify, you must notify me asap by emailing me with (a) your mailing address and (b) some combination of photographic evidence and/or receipts to prove that you’ve purchased all 12 pins. For example, if you order the December pin today (as of this morning, there were 28 of them remaining), you could send me a photo of the 11 pins you’ve already received plus your email from Teespring confirming that you ordered the December pin. Or you could look up all 12 of your Teespring confirmation emails and send screen shots of those. As long as you can prove that you collected ’em all, that’s what I’m looking for.

I will be ordering the All-Star pins this month, with the quantity based on how many people have emailed me their documentation. I’ll definitely order an extra dozen or so (because I know there will be stragglers and late-comers), but that’s it — a dozen extra, not 50. So if you’ve collected ’em all, please prove it pronto. Thanks!

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The Ticker
By Lloyd Alaban

Baseball News: Looks like the Tigers are focus-testing some new logos in a new fan survey (from Sean Gagnier). … P Lance Lynn was recently acquired by the White Sox after a stint with the Rangers. Fox Sports Photoshopped him into a White Sox jersey, but forgot to remove the Globe Life Field patch on his right sleeve (from Dylan Bercu). … The Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds, have unveiled renderings of their planned stadium upgrades (from Kary Klismet). … The Mexican League revealed the uniforms of its two newest clubs (from @bryant_rf).

Football News: Reader Nate Mueller is currently working on a 3D-printed replica of Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa’s helmet. … Each Army player will wear one of 10 subunits’ decals on their helmet this week.

Hockey News: Fun story from Don Martinez, who writes: “During a recent visit with my wife’s parents, we got these two boxes that my wife received as a charter member of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim Booster Club in 1993. The larger box was a season ticket pack (the tickets themselves are missing; my wife was 11 at the time and in Arizona, so naturally would not be able to use them), which included a collector puck and a bumper sticker, and the smaller box was the fan club kit, which included a different-designed puck, a membership card (plastic credit card-style!) and a lapel pin for the booster club.” … Nate Mueller’s latest project is a 5.5″ 3D-printed replica of the Stanley Cup.

NBA News: NBA coaches will not be required to wear a sports coat during games this season. They are only required to wear face coverings and “business attire” — i.e., not track suits, but khakis and polos are okay (from Mike Chamernik). … For the latest in NBA number assignments, check out Etienne Catalan’s Twitter feed.

College and High School Hoops News: Throwbacks for Rutgers and Syracuse last night (from Billy Rose). … Rough-looking game last night between Virginia Tech and Penn State, as the two teams went orange vs. black/pink last night (from Andrew Cosentino). … In a more visually pleasing contest, UNC and Iowa went blue vs. yellow (from multiple readers). … Timpanogos High School in Utah wears the same “Five for the Fight” patch that the NBA’s Utah Jazz wear (from Greg Roper).

Soccer News: Dutch club Sportclub Heerenveen has printed its NOBs on the back of the collar, instead of their usual place directly above the number, presumably to make more room for ads (from Sean Kautzman). … English League Two club Stevenage’s shirt advertiser is Burger King, which is a bit of a marketing stunt. Burger King also wanted to support Stevenage’s amateur women’s team, so their shirts now have a modified Burger King logo that says “Burger Queen” (from our own Jamie Rathjen).

Grab Bag: With Under Armour falling down on the job, UCLA will be switching to Nike and Jordan. Under the terms of the new six-year deal, which will kick in on July 1, UCLA’s football and men’s/women’s hoops teams will wear the Jordan maker’s mark, while the rest of the school’s teams will wear Nike. … Scroll to 22:00 of this podcast for a uni discussion with the University of Wisconsin’s marching band director (from Scott Hurley).

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Comments (61)

    Another Cleveland example of sartorial justice is the baseball team. In 1994 they moved to a new stadium, changed uniforms, and it coincided with a new era of winning.

    I might be confused on the concept. They changed uniforms and started winning for the first time in 50 years. Is it only justice if the change was for the better? I guess to me it was a lateral change. I liked the 1993 uniforms as much as the change.

    Maybe disregard my previous comment.

    They seem stale and unexciting now but almost every tribe fan thought the unis were an improvement in 1994. They would hav been called a fauxback at the time, if we had that term then.

    On the other side of the coin, both times Lebron has left the Cavs, the uniforms got significantly worse too.

    The Buccaneers pewter (mono or not) is way too dark. I appreciate that they tried, but they need to lighten it up. (And Tom Brady needs to shake hands after losses, not wins.)

    Satorial Justice: Mizzou football is 4-1 this year since going back to its traditional “Block M” on its helmet vs. the “Oval Tiger Head” they introduced in 2012.

    Well, maybe. That block “M” was black on a gold helmet in the victory of South Carolina, hardly traditional. And it was black on a white(!?) helmet in the Florida shellacking. Surely reasonable people can agree that the latter is sartorial justice.

    Rats, I can’t type. The phrase “victory of South Carolina” should read “victory over South Carolina.” My apologies.

    Thanks for that, Paul. I think I’ve been watching sports with sartorial justice in my subconscious for a long time, I’m going to be more aware of that going forward. I think that concept definitely affects who I root for in games in which I don’t actually have any rooting interest, and also which of those games I decide to watch at all. Another interesting concept is the small amount of self loathing I feel while watching a team I hate (i.e. Cubs, Packers) but can’t help admire how they look on the field.

    I wish Iowa would go back to script Iowa or Hawks on all their jerseys. I like the yellow, but felt like they got washed out a bit with the color of their court.

    Here’s another vote for permanent ‘script Iowa’ uniforms for the Hawkeyes. They just look so good! Should never have moved away from them but it’s never too late to do the right thing.

    I think contrast can play a part in sartortial justice, in that contrast between teams on a playing surface can help some players distinguish teammate from foe. For example, last weekend the Florida Gators switched their helmets to blue against Tennessee. While Tennessee’s helmets are white, the bit of orange on it, coupled with the Gators normal helmet,could lead the two to blend in a bit. The blue helmet however stood out, possible helping a QB locate his receiver.A well timed sartorial change that May have helped the team.

    Good point, Ron…wasn’t that the reasoning behind the Jets going to the green helmet, to assist in locating a receiver on a downfield pass. At the time, the other teams in the division (whom they played twice a season) all had white lids (BUF (OJ years), MIA, NE (Pat Patriot)

    I recall the Jets’ green helmet being mentioned that way as well. Humorously enough, Leon Hess said the exact same thing when Parcells changed them from green to white (that it would help the QB see his receivers better, i.e., less interceptions). That always cracks me up, like it’s not entirely tied to the team’s play vs helmet color. White, green, purple, neon yellow; hasn’t mattered much for the Jets.

    One MLB example of sartorial justice that sticks out in my mind is the case of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. In their first 10 seasons of existence they had exactly zero winning seasons and no playoff appearances wearing either the original uniform set featuring the multi-colored gradient logos or the drab and boring hunter green and dark navy blue combo. However, after a reboot in 2008 where they “Devil” from their nickname and introduced new (and improved in my opinion) colors, logos, and uniform sets, they immediately had a breakout year advancing all the way to the World Series.

    I’m glad they started winning, but that Green/Navy identity they had is wayyyyy underrated and definitely better than the boring, mayonnaise-jar-looking set they’ve had since.

    The 1994 Phillies added Blue Caps for home day games, which was objectively a bad look. In the strike shortened season, they went 1-7 in those hats. Sartorial Justice.

    Need I remind you, the “drought” era for the Bills coincided with that awful navy blue abomination ripped off from the Montreal Alouettes.

    Turn of the century Detroit Pistons come to mind. Changed to the teal horse logo and uniforms in 1996, worn for 5 seasons, never winning a playoff series. Changed back to the more traditional, Bad Boys era look in 2001, and then won over 50 games for the next 7 seasons, and won the Finals in 2004.

    To be fair, they weren’t good in the early 90s when they changed to the teal, so they didn’t get worse when they started wearing the teal, but did get better once they switched back.

    The Pistons are the first team I thought of too. I came of age during the teal era, so I have nostalgia toward those, but the goin’ to work era coincided nicely with the back to the Bad Boys unis.

    Laughed out loud this a.m. when I clicked on the Tigers Twitter link and read the “coked Tiger” comment. Took me a second to figure it out but when I did … ha!

    Lance Lynn was acquired via trade by the White Sox. (Second baseball ticker item says he “recently signed” with CWS.

    Definite two-time justice in Florida since the Marlins moved/rebranded in 2012. The gaudy black/orange (with random yellow and blue they never used) set from 2012-2018 coincided with no winning seasons, no playoff appearances, the continued jettisoning of payroll (which they said wouldn’t happen anymore after getting a new yard), and sadly tragedy.

    Since the rebrand in 2019 (which, while certainly not perfect, is a massive improvement and ties the team much more closely to both the “Florida”/World Series and historical minor league Marlins eras), they made the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and won a playoff series.

    The Rams had such a great uniform, and should have just made a few minor tweaks like changing the helmet color from navy to royal. Add an alternate white uniform from the 60s, and they would have had some of the best uniforms in the league.

    The Seattle Seahawks may be an example of sartorial injustice: they’re 5-0 in the current version of their bright green uniforms, and their current run of success kicked off after they introduced their current uniform set in 2012, which isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing.

    Historical sartorial justice: The teams with the most WS victories all-time are teams with the most consistently excellent uniforms.

    New York Yankees 27
    St. Louis Cardinals 11
    Philadelphia/Oakland Athletics 9
    Boston Red Sox 9
    NY / SF Giants 8
    Los Angeles/Brooklyn Dodgers 7

    Additional sartorial justice – the Yankees have not won a World Series since they started wearing the stupid matte batting helmet.

    The Red Sox wins in the 21st century starting in 2004 roughly coincide with the introduction of red alternate jerseys and switch from navy to red undershirts in 2003. It’s the inverse of what Paul was talking about in the post, but as a Sox fan, the red jerseys grew on me since the team was winning.

    The drawings are hugely entertaining. The mom’s captions are works of genius. I read them out loud, in the voice of a Bond villain. It made my day.

    Received my magnet yesterday and quickly adhered it to my car. Also, thanks for the sticker included in there! It’s one of those awesome stickers where I don’t want to unpeel the back and stick it to anything, lol. Need to figure out what to do with it.

    The Bengals went to the Super Bowl in 1982 the year after they switched to their iconic striped helmet and unis, and again 7 years later, but have been basically either meh or awful ever since. Does sartorial justice have a time limit?

    Orioles brought back the cartoon bird in 2012 and made the playoffs for the first time since 97. I figured that would’ve been one of the first examples mentioned down here!

    When they switched to the cartoon bird for the first time in 1966, they won their first World Series title that season.

    Florida State football hasn’t been the same since “ignition tradition”

    Five months after winning the National Championship they change the helmet, the logo and the uniforms. The same uniforms that had stayed mostly unchanged through the 90’s Bowden years.

    The white jersey’s couldn’t even be worn because of the golf numbers. The facemask and helmet paint had to be changed as well.

    Now look at us

    Am I in the minority on disliking the idea that NBA coaches can have Casual Friday any day of the week? It’s lamentable that with each passing year (or generation, perhaps), we get less and less formal. While I am not advocating going all the way back to ruffled blouses and breeches, nor getting a fedora, suit and tie to sit on an airplane or outside at a ballgame, there is a certain appeal to looking presentable. There is nothing wrong with being a professional and looking the part. I am all for getting out of my suit after work or on weekends, but I am comfortable putting on nice clothes like an adult. In 10 years, we’re going to be a nation of people wearing athleisure wear and jerseys to funerals and court proceedings. You should dress for how you want to be perceived, and that works both ways.

    Everything you’ve said is true — for those who share your definitions of “presentable,” “professional,” “looking the part,” and so on. But all of those terms are relative and open to interpretation.

    I’m not saying that your standards are wrong (on the contrary, I happen to share many of the views you’ve just expressed). But standards tend to change over time, and what does or doesn’t constitute acceptable attire in a given situation is just one of many, many areas in which our society no longer has a shared, universal standard.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing this season. They’ll be playing in mostly empty arenas (albeit still on TV) and given the situation relaxing the rules seems reasonable.

    Things should be back to normal next year.

    Sartorial injustice : the Cavs, down 3-1 in the 2016 finals, switching to their black sleeved atrocities, then winning the title. I think all concept of sartorial justice died at this time.

    While I 100% agree that the Rams ‘bone’ set is just awful looking, I do find it pretty amusing that you find every possible excuse to make fun of it and the ‘dishwater’ colour, while you end every column with an advertisement for your ‘smoker’s wallpaper’ Uni-watch hockey jersey.

    I guess he means, you think the bone unis are awful, but think your hockey jerseys are beautiful??? Is he questioning your tastes in color/design? Hard to tell.

    This isn’t quite the same thing that Paul is talking about with sartorial justice, but as joyous as the Cubs finally winning the World Series in 2016 was, photos and video of that magnificent Game 7 will always be marred for me by those stupid blue softball tops.

    I’ve been a New York Rangers fan all my life and was devastated when John Ferguson changed to the Shield logo jerseys for 2 years…..when they came to their senses and changed back to the traditional they went to the Stanley Cup Finals….I wasn’t completely happy with New York script on the roads but happy nonetheless….I think to me that was sartorial justice.

    In terms of sartorial justice, I feel if the Jets go 0-16 this year, it will be in a fitting uniform set. Similar to the Browns’ 0-16 campaign.

    As a (long-suffering) Jets fan, I’d say they fit this situation, somewhat. Their only “glory” is SB III, so that uni is the most, well, glorious. Yes, their best days then were short-lived (about two or three good seasons) followed by mediocre/poor results, which pretty much continued when they changed in the ’70s to the Richard Todd/Sack Exchange set. I always disliked those by comparison. Although they had a few playoff seasons along the way, they continued to be so-so/poor in those. Then, Parcells was hired and he changed the unis to essentially their “glory” unis. I recall him saying something like, “this is the identity of the NY Jets” at the time. In that set, they had more success (although not exactly sustained success) than ever. It’s coincidence of course, but they have been abysmal in the new set, which I absolutely hate by comparison to the Namath/Curtis Martin era duds.

    This may not be a great example since the team’s history year by year is really crappy with a few successful blips, but I think the moves away from the “classic” set are sartorial justice.

    A sartorial justice that comes to mind is when the St. Louis Rams switched to their millennium blue and metallic gold uniforms a season after winning the Super Bowl and then lost the Super Bowl two years later.

    The Lakers wearing Black Mamba jerseys for Game 5 vs the Heat because they wanted to win the championship in a uniform that honored Kobe, then losing is peak Sartorial Justice.

    https://secure.nba.com/article/2020/10/07/lakers-black-mamba-jerseys-kobe-bryant-game-5

    They had beaten a Blazers team earlier in the playoffs on 8/24 during a game in which the score was actually 24-8 at one point.

    https://www.nba.com/news/lakers-kobe-bryant-gigi-bryant-patch-jersey

    Odder still is that they won the title in Game 6 while wearing a very un-Lakers like white Sunday uniform.

    I’ve long thought that it was fitting that the Warriors era of dominance coincided with their current uniform program. After ditching “The City” in the 70s they were a blah team for decades. Once they switched to the current identity they became a dynasty. Thanks to Paul for giving a name to this–definitely some sartorial justice at play here!

    I don’t have a Twitter account so I hope somebody can get word to Mr. Catalan that he spelled Greg Whittington’s last name Whitthington on his Nuggets jersey.

    Buffalo Braves: three distinct uni sets, all of them interesting and aesthetically pleasing (red, gold, and royal in their inaugural year, the orange and black diagonal stripes of their middle years, and the Columbia blue duds of the Bob McAdoo era). Not only did they go from being an up and coming powerhouse to being mismanaged into oblivion, they were part of the strangest franchise switch in NBA history (essentially, the Braves were sold to the owner of the Celtics, who moved them to Boston, the Celtics were sold to the owner of the Braves, who moved them to San Diego, and Buffalo got bupkis).

    Monumental sartorial injustice.

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