It’s a double standard ’cause it’s twice as true.
Well, it looks like the black football jerseys are here to stay. Many are excited, many don’t care for them, but regardless, we can anticipate seeing them a few times in the upcoming season. Meanwhile, as we anticipate the upcoming basketball season, seeing Cal’s squad wearing black jerseys is never something that even crosses our minds. Black jerseys in basketball simply haven’t ever been a legitimate option, even though they seem to have been a hit for football. So why are black jerseys accepted for the football team, but not the basketball team?
It would be preaching to the choir to tell you all that Kentucky basketball has a little bit of tradition. In fact, according to many, like the Sagarin rankings, Kentucky has the most college basketball tradition of any team in the nation. When you have that sort of pedigree, your team’s only goal is to win while representing your school in a positive way. Last year’s team did that perfectly. But when it comes to representing your school, the scrutiny is a little higher, and the rules are a little stricter. As the University’s most visible entity, the men’s basketball team has to be a bastion for the school in a way that no other program does. As such, it’s entirely appropriate to limit them to wearing only blue and white. Those are the school colors, and as the school’s most visible representatives, it’s something of a responsibility to wear those colors as part of the tradition of the team.
Remember when the boys wore those “platinum” jerseys that Nike promoted? I don’t know of many people who wanted to see those more often through the season. That’s partly because they looked goofy, but also because matte grey simply isn’t our school color. Black would undoubtedly look cooler, but the principle is the same.
The football team, meanwhile, has a different task. Naturally, both teams are interested in winning, but let’s be real: they have to use different approaches. While the basketball team’s task is to preserve tradition, the football team does everything they can to generate excitement. People will sell out Rupp Arena regardless of what color the jerseys are. A blackout in football does a lot to create buzz and sell tickets. According to Joker Phillips, via UKAthletics, just before the unveiling of the black jerseys:
“Anything that we can do to generate some excitement is good,” Phillips said. “I think there will be more excitement if we are making plays in those black uniforms. We explained to them that these uniforms don’t make plays and that the players wearing them have to prepare themselves and have the right attitude.”
For a while, even before the football team donned the black jerseys, we wondered if they were a fleeting idea, or something that would stick. With the jerseys for this year released (and the option to wear them available on NCAA 13), it looks like they’re going to stick around. Agree? Disagree? Regardless, it has the potential to get people excited. For football, excited = good.
People outside the program may have forgotten that Kentucky basketball has worn a black jersey before; in fact, they did it before the football team did. The reasons, though, were very different. When Bill Keightley passed in 2008, the team decided to wear black jerseys in his memory, each with his name on the back. Because the affectionately named “Mr. Wildcat” was so important to so many teams, the tribute was entirely appropriate. Re-introducing the black jerseys for basketball, when the only other time they’ve appeared is for that tribute, would diminish the significance of that gesture.
Would black jerseys be disrespectful? Not necessarily. But why not leave it was what it was: a touching, symbolic act for an important member of the team. Throwing on black jerseys now would cheapen it, even just a little bit, and that’s not something that sounds very appealing.
What has lots of significance for basketball, though, doesn’t apply for the football team. The black jerseys for football are completely without that stigma, and there’s no sentimental reason not to use them.
So is it fair to think that the black jerseys are fine for football, but not okay for basketball? The expectations for the teams are different, and they have to use different approaches to satisfy their goals. For basketball, maintaining tradition is the number one priority. Staying “atop the mountain of college basketball,” as Cal put it. Football, though, has to generate excitement. Love them or hate them, black jerseys are exciting. The two separate aims of the teams probably justify black jerseys for one, but not necessarily the other. Fair? Maybe not. Reality? Well, just don’t expect to see Kyle Wiltjer in black this season.