Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yellow Traditions

Last week it was reported that Columbus Crew SC will be dropping the familiar yellow kit and replacing it with a "funky" take that incorporates the Columbus City flag in 2016.

Team outfits have long been sources of social media conversation and changing them up year to year usually gains a headline or two from the local press. Keeping things fresh can also drum up a few extra sales each time a change is made. In recent years Major League Soccer has a more organized release event called "Jersey Week" that occurs shortly before the start of the season where players walk out on the stage sporting the latest wares.

It's difficult to pin down where events like "Jersey Week" started. For MLS it's more a get together than anything. The first place I started noticing it becoming a thing was in the Premier League sometime over the last ten years. We see it everywhere now though. Here in the USA we have a more traditional take on uniforms that no doubt comes from our 150 year long bizarre love for all things college athletics. They might have a new alternate thrown in there but, for the most part, stick to the traditions.

I'm old enough to remember when the NFL and NBA were considered dirty and didn't have the TV ratings that college sports or annual events like the Olympics. I've never really thought about it until recently when I started collecting up the odd old Sports Illustrated or newspaper at flee markets or thrift stores. When I say old, I mean I'm looking for stuff pre-1960. The post War stuff is the good stuff. I'll read them cover to cover, I love it. It can be as frightening as it is exciting because my view of sports post-WWII has been nearly turned on it's head across the board.

Besides pro team sports (outside of baseball) being seen as mostly a side show, I was surprised at how much coverage women in sport got. I recently picked up a couple issues of Sports Illustrated from 1954 (their 1st year) and was stunned at the diversity of coverage. Certainly not what popular culture has taught us. There is also a refreshing amount of coverage of international sport along side the pieces on hunting, archery and horse racing. When did this all end? I'm not sure. I'm sort of stuck in the era right now in my little sports writing history trip. I can say that I have a couple issues from the mid-80s that are cringe worthy in their treatment of pop culture, including women (especially in ads, something that was not there in the post war issues I have).

Through the ebb and flow of history I notice that there are a precious few certain things that don't change and topping that list is college uniforms. It's mostly driven by the gridiron but I see it in basketball as well. Necessity or purposeful, the suckers just haven't changed much at most schools. I guess when you consider the marching band, military slant on college sports it starts making some more sense and much like the military - Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all mostly stick to decades long traditions with uniforms.

Soccer has an evolution completely different. Even though there is a rich history of the sport in the USA it doesn't share the collegiate based history that most of the pro sports springboard off of. Soccer is the world's game, as they say, and the US is just part.

In taking on the sport in one pro form or another over the years, organizers have walked the tightrope of joining the world party and sticking to long standing traditions in the United States. Most of the time with soccer we lose our balance and fall in comical ways. Look at the pro league structure, our college structure and our youth structure (on second though, don't look there). In fact, it's a mess on top of the mess that is our (hopefully illegal soon) competitive structure we use for basketball and on the gridiron.

With soccer we pick things from the rest of the world here and there. Sort of like picking fruit from a tree but instead of skipping over the rotten we stubbornly only pick ONE type of fruit despite the quality, happily chomping down on worms and bird poop before trying anything remotely close un-American.

But there is something we do get right on the American Fruit Tree and that is uniform traditions with our sports. There are precious few countries in the world that can say this. It may seem somewhat superficial but it provides a sense of continuity, stability, comfort and place.


I might not like it but of course I don't mind if Crew SC has sponsor on the front of their jersey or even switching up colors if they so please. What I do mind is if Anthony Precourt and co. are ignorant to traditions in a league that have so precious few.

Early this week, after the news broke about the yellow jersey getting dumped, Anthony Precourt jumped on twitter to address the rumors and didn't not seem aware that the yellow kit had seen a streak of 17 years straight and mis-identified the issues of just fans fearing change. Like a "who moved my cheese" problem that was just fans being fans.

It's true that the yellow kit has been worn by Columbus for 17 years straight as was the black kit was on a 16 year run before it was broken back in 2012 (nobody seemed to mind that one).

They yellow leaving stings more, I think, because there was some unbroken continuity there based upon... tradition! The Anglican Catholic in me would like something - anything - to continue on in MLS but I realize this is a league that continuously demonstrates that they don't have that maturity, sense of history or long view in mind.

Of course change is part of life, look in the mirror - but unnecessary change is the enemy of progress.

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