Late in the 2015 season, the NFL and its new jersey sponsor Nike were trying to find a way to spice up Thursday Night Football games, so they decided to infuse the NFL’s undercard matchups with color. That’s how “color rush” was born, and how for every Thursday from 2015 to 2018, we were subjected to some of the most brutal uniform matchups in NFL history (Grey Poupon vs. Smurfs anyone?). But it all began one November night in New York, when the league thought it would be a good idea to celebrate Christmas early—the Jets dressed solely in kelly green like a bunch of Christmas trees, and the Bills wearing what amounted to a red Santa Claus get up. The only problem? About 8% of the population is red-green color blind, so for one in every 12 viewers, the game looked like this.

Could there be a better way to begin a discussion of uniforms over the past decade? In the desire to look new and fresh, to practice the received wisdom that one should never wear the same outfit twice, the NFL left a significant portion of the population behind. That axiom, to never wear the same thing twice, has come to define the decade, but it’s antithetical to everything a uniform stands for (that would be tradition, identity, and consistency). During the Joey Era, uniforms were more a suggestion than anything else, a template built to be tweaked.

Thanks to the Color Rush, even the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most tradition-bound franchises in sports, donned a new look. Other leagues did it, too. The NBA added sleeves, then removed them, then unveiled the annual “City Edition” uniforms intended, “to breathe new life into uniform designs to more closely connect a franchise to its city.” The NHL has made faux-backs for its Winter Classic, and this year unveiled the “Reverse Retro” series. The MLB will add unfortunate blue or pink accents for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, plus the occasional camo and stars and stripes. In college football, a researcher found that the number of uniforms used per season has doubled in the last decade (and that when wearing an alternate uniform, teams perform an average of one touchdown worse than usual).

That’s not to say that change is necessarily a bad thing. There is something undeniably fun about trotting out special uniforms, and nobody wants to see tradition turn into stodginess. The City Edition uniforms, for example, led to some atrocities; they’ve also led to some of the best looks in sports, like these.

The City Edition uniforms are at there best on sets like this, that allow the Minnesota Timberwolves to pay tribute to Prince. These rock.

“Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events,” said former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. “You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.” So what do the last 10 years of jerseys tell us about our world? Maybe we’re rejecting tradition, or maybe it means we’re building new ones on top of it. Maybe it means we always want more, more, more. Maybe, in the words of the famed designer Elsa Schiaparelli, “In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.”

Or maybe it’s just all about attention, about having yet another thing to debate. Who wore it best? Whose is the worst? To keep that spirit of debate alive and to celebrate 10 years of Joey Awards, please enjoy the sports version of What Not To Wear.

I made some calls but unfortunately, Stacy and Clinton weren’t available. Luckily, they agreed to gladly hand me the reins for the week. I wanted to call in some help for this one, so joining me will be my sister Haley, a design major who will be seeing many of these uniforms for the first time, and my friend Andrew, a player on the Longhorn basketball team and a uniform aficionado who has collected over a hundred jerseys. Together, the three of us will guide sports teams into a new decade, helping them learn some lessons about what outfits our athletes should be wearing over the next 10 years.

But first, some ground rules. Our What Not To Wear camera crew has spent the last two weeks (err…ten years) secretly (not so secretly) filming the biggest fashion disasters in sports. From neon to inexplicable uses of black, we first need to review the tape to see what went wrong. We have total say over their wardrobe: Anything we say has to go, has to go. And once the closet is cleaned out, we’ll give our franchises a look at some of the best uniforms in recent history, hopefully stoking their imagination to new heights. Then and only then can we send them back out into the world, armed with this new knowledge and a $5,000 gift card (I guess they could use this at…Fanatics or something?), to make their courts, fields, and ice rinks a much more stylish place. To the tapes!

Columbus Crew 2016 "For Columbus" Kit

Joe: I call these “The Minions.”

Haley: I’m a fan of the light blue and red color scheme, especially on that collar, but wow is that yellow awful. Maybe a darker shade would work better, or they should’ve just kept it white and this would actually be a pretty good combo.

Andrew: As they say in Columbus, don’t eat yellow snow.

Joe: Speaking of gradients, Haley, I know you consider yourself a Rams fan. What do we make of these?

Los Angeles Rams 2020-2021

Haley: I saw these on TV the other day and thought they were wearing tan. Looking now, I guess that they’re supposed to be white? That’s gotta be the worst jersey ever, right? On TV, they look ecru. The blue ones aren’t thaaaat bad, but the ultramarine shade they use is literally blinding. At least they were trying to be bold?

Joe: As bad as that blue uniform is, it’s the “white” that makes me want to throw the remote through the TV every time I see them. The Rams call the off-white color “bone,” but I prefer the moniker going around online, which is “dirty dishwater.” That, or “smog,” seems more apt.

Andrew: One, gradients suck. Two, why does the logo look like a sticker saying, “Hello, my name is…LOS ANGELES RAMS”?

Joe: The lesson, of course, is that neon green never never never works. But my question for you guys is which of these is the worst of the worst: the Notre Dame Four Lokos, the Michigan State Green Lanterns, or the Seattle Glow Sticks?

Andrew: All of the above. Lime green is only acceptable on March 17.

Haley: I’ve got some thoughts on all these. Is Notre Dame’s green in honor of their Covid outbreak failure? Has anyone tried using these Seahawks jerseys as a green screen? Is that shade of green even a Michigan State color?

Notre Dame’s is just terrible. Those poor players don’t get paid enough to wear those…oh wait. Thinking about it some more, there’s an argument to be made that having to wear those jerseys is reason enough to pay NCAA players. I can’t stop staring at the shorts. What’s happening? They make no sense.

2017 Florida Gator...uhhhh Alligators??

Joe: Yes, the Gators really thought it would be a good idea to dress like actual alligators.


Andrew: Imagine if the Texas Longhorns came out in cowhide. The closest I can come to matching this horror is when the Oklahoma City Thunder thought it would be a good idea to dress up like a storm cloud. I mean, cmon…

Joe: What kills me about this is that when they announced these, they actually claimed that the grey gradient was supposed to represent a rain cloud. Does that mean the orange and blue scratch marks are supposed to represent tie dye lightning bolts or something?

Haley: OKC looks genius in comparison to those Gator uniforms, even if they’re dressing up as a literal rain cloud. None of those Gators colors are related at all. I feel like if I tried to create those in Madden, the system wouldn’t even let me do it.

Dallas Mavericks 2019 City Edition

Joe: Haley, before you react, you should know that these jerseys are meant to reflect to “unique culture” of Dallas, TX.

Haley: The idea of Mark Cuban using the word “culture” to refer to this computer generated graffiti makes me uncomfortable. Also, can we acknowledge that the jerseys are not as bad as this Photoshop graphic? Whoever made it does not know how shadows work at all. Can we zoom in on the shadow on the player, please?

Haley, cont’d: Even an attempt like this would be be more accurate.

Andrew: I didn’t know Nike let elementary schoolers using Microsoft Paint design NBA uniforms.

Haley: Two other things: 1) There’s a big star right directly on their crotch. In fairness, if they’re trying to capture the “culture” of Dallas, then that’s a good start. And 2) I take it back. Their Photoshop graphic is a comedic masterpiece.

Joe: So what are the takeaways overall? For me, it’s that gradients are always bad, basketball jerseys should not have sleeves, just because you’re named after an animal doesn’t mean you have to dress exactly like it. Oh, and lay off the neon. Anything else?

Andrew: Simple. Is. Best.

Haley: I commend some of the risk-taking going on. Overall, I’d say it’s like fashion in everyday life—as long as you’re confident, maybe you have a chance at making it look good. But the Gators, Notre Dame, and the Rams…that’s the worst of the worst.

The uniform design team should be just about as important in a franchise as anyone. Some of these teams clearly don’t understand that they’re actually putting real people into these things. Make them look good and confident! Make the fans confident! You would have to play worse if you were wearing those goofy Mavs uniforms. You’d just have too. If you want to represent your city or your fanbase, you have to put some effort and care in. Like those green Seahawks ones, for example. Don’t those just feel disrespectful to the players?

Joe: Indeed. Time to throw all of these away forever. Onto the best…

Miami Heat City Edition

Joe: Here’s where the NBA City Edition jerseys are at their best. These are simple, classic, and scream Miami. Voila. Also—a show stopping use of pink!!

Haley: What I appreciate is that someone clearly had a vision here. They had a theme in mind, narrowed down their color palette, and went through multiple drafts and chose logically. It’s simple but really well executed. And the players just look really, really cool.

Andrew: The Heat are quietly one of the best-dressed franchises in sports (That includes you, Oregon Ducks). These are clean, reflect their city, and are already iconic—plus the court that goes with them is great, too.

Purdue Boilermakers 2019 Moon Landing Uniform

Joe: Some background here: Neil Armstrong was a Purdue grad, and in an effort to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his walk on the moon, the school released this sweet uniform. Here’s a closer look at some details. You’ll note the moon boot prints along the stripe on top, the subtle moon design in the chrome Purdue logo, the NASA-style patch, and the lettering on the back of the helmet that reads, “One giant leap.”

Andrew: Love a good moon landing—but I love a space-themed uniform even more. Luckily, Purdue wasn’t even the only squad to look to the heavens for inspiration during the Joey Era. UCF wore a slightly uglier version of these (they were still pretty good), and how about Burton’s decision to dress the Pyeongchang Team USA snowboard team like Apollo-era astronauts? More astronauts, please.

Joe: In addition to looking great, what Purdue does that others can learn from is that they stay within the template of their existing uniforms. Instead of making one radical change, they layer tiny tweaks on top of each other to get something larger than the sum of its parts. They use chrome silver and gold, which is almost always cool, utilize a patch (not used nearly enough), and finally, follow the golden rule of uniforms. That, of course, is that white-on-white-on-white is almost always a winner. I say almost because who can forget…

Joe: My god. Those are from the MLB’s Player’s Weekend in 2019. “I’d just like to know who said this was a good idea,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon after the game, in which opponents wore all black get-ups. But I digress…

Haley: I’m not going to comment on the Cubs croquet match alternates, but those Purdue uniforms are awesome. Each detail feels purposeful, and if I was a player, I’d be so proud to put on that helmet. The moon crater ‘P’ is excellent, and somehow they didn’t overdo it with the chrome. IMPRESSIVE.

Chicago Bulls 2020-2021 City Edition

Joe: So these actually haven’t been worn yet, but while we’re talking about getting inspiration from unlikely sources, I can’t let this one go by without notice. Haley, I think you’ll like this one in particular. Nike says that these Bulls uniforms are inspired by legendary city planner Daniel Burham, who led the rebuilding effort in Chicago after the great fire. Art deco is obviously a key to the city, and the font used here is taken from the sign in front of the United Center.

Haley: A uniform based on a city planner? YES! I think of these compared to the Mavs jerseys, and I chuckle. Once again, you see someone sticking to a theme and doing research. Professional uniforms deserve that care! The colors, the font—it’s all right. They represent Chicago in such a fun and creative way. Isn’t that what it’s all about? I love this one.

Andrew: I want the matching Air Jordans.

2017 Army-Navy Game

Joe: This has got to be one of the best uses of a helmet in football uniform design history (a very storied history, indeed). Each position group for Navy had a different design on their helmets (For example, QBs had aircraft carriers). And the rest of the outfit looks killer too—classic but sleek. Add in a white-on-white-on-white Army playing in the snow? Uniform nirvana.

Haley: Each position has their own design? That’s awesome, but…is that even allowed?

Andrew: You can’t look better than this. First and foremost, all white in the snow? Elite. As for Navy, I normally don’t like the mixing and matching of different shades of blue, but the design on the helmet is too perfect. Each one was hand painted. I love it. Thank you for serving our country (and our eyes). God bless America.

Joe: Now, Haley are you ready for the best of the best?

Haley: Yessir.

Seattle Kraken Inaugural Uniform Set

Joe: RELEASE THE KRAKEN! They don’t start playing for another season, but from the name to the logo to the uniforms, everything about the Seattle Kraken is perfect.

Haley: Ooooooo yes. I remember you texting this to me in the middle of a class, and my jaw dropped. I’m still almost speechless. If I was a hockey player, I would refuse to play anywhere else—like, I would take so much less money to be able to wear these every night. This must be everyone’s favorite color combination in the nation, right? Not to mention the Kraken being the best mascot ever. But those red accents? Ugh. YES.

Joe: It’s really hard for a new team to create a uniform that immediately feels like it’s worth becoming a tradition; the Titans and Jaguars, for example, are still struggling. But Haley’s right, it’s those red accents that make this thing work. Perfection.

Andrew: The kraken’s eye in the S is so subtle but so good. And what a color scheme. It’s bold but still classic, and fits in perfectly with the Seahawks and the Mariners across town. That’s an underrated trait of uniforms: I love it when all a city’s teams have the same colors.

I’d like to get on my soapbox for a second here. Joe, am I allowed to give out Joey’s?

Joe: Uhhhh…I guess?

Andrew: Thank you. I’m pleased to announce that the Joey Award for Bravery in Maintaining Tradition in the Face of Unprecedented Change goes to…the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Green Bay Packers, Texas Longhorns, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oakland Raiders, and Detroit Red Wings! Through it all, these organization stuck with their traditional uniforms no matter what. That’s something that we ought to celebrate.

Joe: I’m in complete agreement. And thank you for leaving Penn State off that list. For obvious reasons, they’re serving a lifetime ban from any Joey Awards…

Andrew: Really? Why? What happened—

Joe: Well, folks, that’s all the time we’ve got! Thanks for joining in! Uhhh…can someone cue the outro music?

The 10th Annual Joey Awards

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