Fading the Black – Colour Uniforms Back in Vogue


Black’s cool. I get it – really. My wife likes it when I put on my all-black suit. Darth Vader wouldn’t look the same in teal. When you see a “black and white”, your foot slips off the gas. It’s even slimming.

The Intimidator. The Black Hole. Back In Black. Jerry Glanville. Heck, even Lewis Black…well, maybe that’s pushing it a little.

For a while there (really, the entire 1990s and a good chunk of the 2000s), it seemed that every sports entity had to have black somewhere. Hat brims, side panels of jerseys, something had to turn charcoal, ebony, ink, obsidian, raven or soot. Call it sport’s “Dark Period.”

Some scientists even wondered if the darkening uniforms were having an effect on the athletes’ aggressiveness; Drs. Frank & Gilovich of Cornell’s Department Of Psychology posit that, “An analysis of the penalty records of the National Football League and the National Hockey League indicate that teams with black uniforms in both sports ranked near the top of their leagues in penalties throughout the period of study. On those occasions when a team switched from nonblack to black uniforms, the switch was accompanied by an immediate increase in penalties.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3346809)

Of course, marketing drove the switch; teams routinely change something in or on their duds every year or two, just to keep the merchandisers busy and happy. For the most part, the switches didn’t overtly affect the team’s looks, and, outside of a few localized grumbles (and, of course, we logogeeks), nobody seemed to mind. Truthfully, although I grumbled, I didn’t even mind the Jays’ black duds. At least the design was cool – or so I thought; a while ago,  a little voice beside me, belonging to my (then) four-year-old daughter observed, “Daddy, why do the BLUE Jays wear BLACK?!?” Takes a kid.

Of course, we’d noticed the shift; it was either that or we were all gradually going colour-blind. The BLUE Jays. The REDS.  BLACK?!? Hmmm. Maybe we were going crazy, too.

When teams get their uniforms right (Raide s, Heat, Bruins, Blackhawks), black is a familiar and welcome sight. When they’re bad, though (Bengals, the Buffalo Bills practically-black midnight blue, Royals, Ducks, Raptors, Flames), they’re just awful – the black just adds to the visual nonsense.

With the exception of a few teams ‘branded for black’, most fans identify with actual colours. “The Red Mile” in Calgary is one of the best examples; when the Flames switched from their vibrant gold-over-crimson Lanny McDonald-era sweaters to the black-C blue-flag style, more than a few wags thought the transformation was symbolic of a once-bright franchise that had burnt out and lost its’ way.

We’re seeing a lot of push-back these days; teams are “fading the black” in a return to what is old (and new again). Our beloved Jays are blue again, the New York Mets, the Kansas City Royals have also ditched the black for a return to blue. Unless you’re a fan of the Raiders, black isn’t really part of your scheme. Like native birds loose in the Amazon, our bright colour-coded plumage attracts birds of a similar feather. Umps and refs are the ones that wear black, man.

The Bulls? Not black, man – you remember MJ in red. Gretzky in blue and orange, Rickey Henderson in green and yellow, Magic in purple vs. Bird in green, and even Nolan Ryan in those awful Astros rainbows; these are the Technicolors of our sports dreams.

My little guy cries if we make him wear anything less than Blue Jay, Argonaut or Maple Leaf blue. He’s four, but there’s a little bit of that in every sports fan; our colors are as much of a safety net, a touchstone, as they are to any block in East L.A. Black? Unless you’re a Raider fan, it just don’t mean as much to you.

To the marketing mavens of professional and school sports; Keep it up. Bring back the joyous riot of colour, occasional mistakes and all, that made sport what it is today. Trust me, you’ll still sell lots of jerseys and caps.

After all, you wouldn’t expect Tommy Lasorda to bleed Dodger...(black…?!?)

Right, you can’t say it either.