Jerseys are the ultimate symbol of a fan’s devotion to their team. They tell onlookers not only where someone’s allegiances lie on game day, but also provide a unique insight into what that person’s values and what their personality is like. A LeBron James jersey from his tenure with the Miami Heat versus a LeBron James jersey from his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers signifies two completely different things.
Fans and athletes alike have incorporated the jersey into their daily wardrobes because they are proud of the team or player they are representing, or simply because of aesthetic appeal. However, despite their unrivalled importance in the culture of sports, jerseys are being disconnected from both fans and athletes alike. Nike and Adidas, the two sportswear powerhouses with nearly unchallenged supremacy at the top of the industry, can be blamed for changing the meaning of what a jersey is.
The start of the ‘jersey revolution’ can be traced to the Oregon Ducks football team. The program receives heavy funding in the form of donations and guidance from Nike Co-Founder and Chairman Phil Knight; consequently, the Ducks have had the luxury of trotting out different uniforms for every individual game. Oregon has been buoyed by the buzz surrounding their flashy uniforms, and have used it as a key recruiting tactic.
Adidas, in an attempt to push the envelope and compete with its rival, launched an ambitious campaign last February. The company introduced NBA jerseys with sleeves, a project which the Golden State Warriors were first to outfit. Adidas boasted that the product was a “revolutionary marriage between performance and aesthetics.” This statement is only partially correct. Adidas should be commended for striving to improve the quality of its equipment but should be ridiculued for losing the ability to make aesthetically pleasing products. The company further stated that the jersey was designed with the fan in mind, as basketball jerseys are limited in a stylistic sense since they are sleeveless. However, what they failed to recognize is that the sleeveless nature of basketball jerseys is what defines them.
Most recently, Nike released ice hockey jerseys for Canada, the United States, and the Czech Republic in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Canadian jerseys are supposed to represent Canadian culture and national pride even though the alternate jersey’s primary colour is black. The Czech Republic’s sweaters on the other hand, seem like carbon copies of the nation’s soccer jerseys. The American logo resembles a silhouette of a highway route sign. All three nations have faux laces on the necklines of their jersey. Instead of embracing the heritage and hockey histories of each nation, the jerseys reflect a distinct change in the mindset of sportswear producers. They have put too much of a focus on creating flashy, new age jerseys, rather than something that athletes, and fans, are proud to wear.
Both Nike and Adidas have seen positive feedback after making concerted efforts to create uniforms that are environmentally friendly and high tech. The Warriors’ jersey was made from 60 per cent recycled materials; a major component in the American jersey is the use of 17 recycled plastic bottles. The new wave of jerseys are lighter and have improved ventilation and breathability. However, while achieving these goals the jersey has gone from a source of pride to a source of comedy.
In an attempt to become more advanced, both Nike and Adidas have made a laughingstock of a symbol that is rooted deeply in the world of sports; the true meaning of what it is to own and wear a jersey has been forgotten. The jersey revolution has gone too far and it is time for it to come to an end.