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A Brief History of Jerseys Presented to Presidents

[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from Dan Tarrant, who has explored the history of how sports uniforms became familiar sights at the White House. Enjoy. ”” PL]

By Dan Tarrant

In addition to rings, trophies, and maybe a few nice monetary bonuses, national championship winners at the college or professional level can expect an invitation to the White House, where the President of the United States will honor them with a ceremony at the Rose Garden. And as a gesture of appreciation, it has become tradition for the honorees to present the President with a customized team jersey.

But how did this tradition start?

The first championship team to receive a White House invitation was the 1924 Washington Senators, who were greeted by Calvin Coolidge but presumably didn’t have a jersey customized for him (as names were not on backs during that era). John F. Kennedy first hosted an NBA championship team in 1963 (the Boston Celtics), and a photograph of the event does not indicate that the team offered any Celtics garb for Jack’s collection.

Gerald Ford extended the honor to the college ranks in 1976 by inviting the Indiana Hoosiers basketball squad. In this photograph, coach Bobby Knight appears to be presenting Ford with an autographed team ball.

In early 1980, Jimmy Carter hosted a joint ceremony for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates to celebrate their recent titles. The teams gifted Carter with a Pirates hat and Steelers “Terrible Towel,” which appears to mark the first time a uni-related element was presented to a President. Carter was also given T-shirts, but not team jerseys, from such NCAA visitors as Georgia Tech and Louisville.

It was Ronald Reagan who expanded the tradition of hosting championship teams, and it is here that we find our first examples of team jerseys customized for the President. The earliest example I found was when the Gipper hosted the 1983 NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers, although it is not clear if this jersey featured Reagan’s name on the back. The earliest confirmed customized example came in 1985, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave the President a Lakers jersey during a ceremony that took place the day after the team clinched the title in Boston. (These days the events happen months afterwards.) Even then, jerseys were not yet standard gifts, as Reagan also received a jacket and hat from the Kansas City Royals and even George Gipp’s Notre Dame letterman’s sweater.

(Update: Subsequent research has confirmed that Reagan’s 1983 jersey was indeed personalized.)

Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, broke new ground by being the first President to host a Stanley Cup champion (the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins) and also was the first to honor a team not based in the United States when the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays visited the White House.

(Update: Additional research has revealed that the first Stanley Cup winners to visit the White House were the 1983 Islanders, who were hosted by President Reagan. They gave him an Islanders rug and a stick.)

Most of the jerseys Reagan and Bush received featured the numeral 1. By the time Bill Clinton took office, however, we begin to see his ordinal number, 42, or sometimes the last two digits of the year. As the 1990s became the 2000s, this would often result in a jersey with a leading zero, although when LSU visited the White House to celebrate their 2007 national title, they presented President Bush with a No. 7 jersey. As George W. Bush was commonly known as “43” to distinguish him from his father, the vast majority of his jerseys used that number instead of No. 1 or the year.

Barack Obama is currently the record-holder for hosting teams, having met with 86 college and professional squads at the White House during his tenure. It is also noteworthy that his final official public appearance as President of the United States was the ceremony honoring his hometown Chicago Cubs. Interestingly, the Cubs more recently visited the Trump White House, becoming (probably) the first championship team to be honored by two sitting presidents.

While most of the uniforms presented to presidents over the years have fit the standard template, there are numerous unusual examples as well (some of these jerseys were presented at campaign events or other occasions aside from champion ceremonies):

  • In 2012, Obama received a No. 23 jersey from the Dallas Mavericks. The significance of that number is unclear.
  • Obama also honored two teams from the past, receiving a No. 72 “Undefeated” jersey from the 1972 Miami Dolphins and a No. 85 jersey from the 1985 Chicago Bears, whose originally scheduled visit with Ronald Reagan was cancelled after the Challenger disaster.
  • When Obama hosted the 2010 Duke Blue Devils, he was presented with a plaque (which appears to have been made from a piece of a basketball floor) and a framed jersey.
  • In addition to a jersey, Obama received an appropriately numbered helmet from the 2016 Alabama football team.
  • First Ladies have sometimes gotten into the act. Nancy Reagan was given a ’Skins jersey to promote her anti-drug campaign. Joe Montana also presented Mrs. Reagan (and somebody who obviously was not President Reagan) with matching his-and-hers 49ers jerseys.
  • Michelle Obama received a “FLOTUS” hockey sweater from the 2012 Chicago Blackhawks, although curiously it was not a team jersey.
  • Vice Presidents have participated in the custom as well. Here is Mike Pence with a gold-numbered Cubs jersey, which he received just last month. Al Gore, Joe Biden, and Dick Cheney also received team swag over the years.
  • Although she wasn’t First Lady at the time, Senator Hillary Clinton was presented with a “Hillary” Steelers jersey during a campaign stop in 2008.
  • Reagan received both home and away “The Gipper” jerseys from the New York Giants in 1987.
  • In 2008, the Detroit Red Wings created team sweaters for both George W. Bush and his father.
  • In a rare case of political rivals being given jerseys at the same time, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole got Kansas Jayhawks tanks during the former president’s visit to Dole’s home state. Nice touch to make sure that Dole got the home jersey and Clinton the away version.
  • Most of the football jerseys presented to Presidents are obviously of the “replica” type, with real sleeves and tailored to be worn without pads. However, the Clemson Tigers recently choose to present President Trump with actual game-cut versions.
  • The 1992 Dallas Cowboys figured that Bill Clinton would be fine with an Emmitt Smith jersey.
  • And finally, here is a great photo illustration from The Onion depicting Michelle Obama cleaning out jerseys from her husband’s closet as they prepare to leave the White House.

For more information about the tradition of presidents being presented with jerseys and other sports-related gifts, check out this 2007 Uni Watch piece by Vince Grzegorek.


Paul here. Good stuff from Dan, who also has a bunch of interesting paintings and a line of books that he’s written under a pseudonym. Well-rounded cat.

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The Ticker
By Paul

’Skins Watch: The Exeter Chiefs — that’s a UK rugby union team — has come under criticism for its team name and headdress-wearing fans (from @stumpy7780). … The Australian national rugby union team has unveiled its first-ever indigenous peoples jersey (from Adam Ingle).

Baseball News: The DC Metro is now selling Nats-themed fare cards. … I’m quoted pretty extensively in this article about the Astros’ uniform history. … The Toledo Mud Hens will wear jerseys on Aug. 26 that are based on a 100-year-old sign (from Nicholas John). … Nats skipper Dusty Baker was wearing a decidedly non-MLB-approved cap at a presser yesterday. Turns out it’s for a California-based fruit and nut distributor (from John Yerrick and Darren Rovell). … This is pretty awesome: a 1963 shot of Hank Aaron with FIOB! His brother Tommie was also on the Braves at the time. That’s Roger Craig wearing the Mets uni, which didn’t yet have the front number that would eventually be added in 1965 (big thanks to Phil). … For reasons that aren’t clear, at least to me, the A’s are doing a Rickey Henderson jersey giveaway but are using an “Oakland” script on a home white jersey. Weird (from Richard Paloma). … Dodgers 3B Justin Turner really needs to button up (from Matthew Crooks). … As we’ve discussed many times, it’s standard for MLBers to wear their big league helmets while on minor league rehab assignments. That’s because minor league helmets are all double-flapped, but MLBers don’t have to follow that rule while on rehab. But here’s a new one: Mets P Josh Smoke, currently rehabbing with the single-A St. Lucie Mets, wore his big league BP cap yesterday. What’s up with that? (From A.J. Frey.) … Even if you hate the DH, as I do, this pro-DH T-shirt worn by Padres OF Bobby Brown is pretty great.

NFL and College Football News: A man sentenced to death for the murder of his wife and a handyman wore a Tony Romo throwback jersey to his sentencing (from K. Richardson). … USA Today’s advice to high school players who are considering which college to attend: don’t base your decision on the uniform (thanks, Phil). … Wisconsin players wore throwback uniforms, including long-sleeved jerseys, for a poster shoot. … Here are the uni number assignments for Iowa’s incoming freshmen. … New BFBS and green alternates in the works for Miami (from Matt Porter).

Hockey News: Buried within this piece is the news that the AHL teams “will wear light jerseys at home until the Christmas break, and dark jerseys at home after the Christmas break.” Not positive, but I think that’s an extension of the existing policy, not a new thing (from @sparker089).

Basketball News: The Raptors’ jersey advertiser will be Sun Life Financial, an insurance company based in Toronto. … In addition, the box for the Canadian version of the NBA 2K18 video game features a Photoshopped image that appears to show some small changes to the Raptors’ red uniform. It’s not yet clear whether those changes will actually appear on the court. … In a related item, it appears that a Chinese social media site may have leaked catalog images of the new Raptors and Suns road jerseys, although their legitimacy is not yet confirmed. … Blood jersey alert: This video showing highlights from a 1989 Lakers/Kings game shows Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wearing a NNOB No. 8 jersey. It also provides a good view of the Kings’ NOBs at the time, which were positioned below the numbers (good find by @oafhamper). … …New floor design for Yale (from Nolan Rich). … Three items from our own Mike Chamernik: The Grizzlies are taking the unusual step of retiring Zach Randolph’s No. 50, even though he’s still an active player. … Paul George will wear No. 13 for the Thunder. “He was once 24, but changed to 13 to fit the nickname PG-13,” says Mike. … Newly acquired P.J. Tucker will wear No. 2 for the Rockets.

Soccer News: New shirt for Piast Gliwice (from Ed Å»elaski”). … A player for the German team FC Kaiserslautern wore goggles the other day. … The Netherlands is hosting the UEFA Women’s European Championship later this month. To further promote the event, the Royal Dutch Football Association and Nike held an event revealing a logo “sex change,” with team’s crest changing from a lion to a lioness. The new uniform detail will debut in their Euro preparation match against Wales on July 8 (from Saurel Jean, Jr.). … New away kit for Oxford United (from Nate Hargis).

Grab Bag: Wimbledon has been plagued this year by mating winged ants. … New shoes for UNC wrestling (from James Gilbert). … New volleyball uniforms for Minnesota (thanks, Phil). … Female reporters in DC have been barred from some parts of Capitol Hill for wearing sleeveless dresses. … The work of the great Americana photographer John Margolies, who specialized in pics of diners, gas stations, drive-in movie theaters, motels, billboards, and the like, is now available online. Highly, highly recommended. … There’s something really messed up when a new high school announces its team colors and logo and proudly declares that it’s “a great brand” (from Josh Claywell). … Cal’s rowing crew has a tradition of having the bowman wearing his jersey backwards, so the “C,” which normally appears on the chest, is on his back (from Matt Kowalski). … New rugby uniforms for Racing 92 (from @stumpy7780).

Comments (92)

    The Exeter rugby thing got me thinking…

    A Euro team using an wholly American culture as a team name.
    Are there other team names that cross the divide like that?

    The New York Kamikazes or Seattle Watusi or something like that?

    just thinking out loud.

    But at least Boston was (in the words of their owner) “…full of Irishmen.” So I *sort of* see the logic there. I’m not sure Exeter is/was “full of Native Americans”.


    Yeah, I think “Celtics” makes sense, given the city’s perception as a settling place for Irish.

    What makes significantly less sense to me are the two football clubs in England, link and link, who call themselves “the Pilgrims” after the people who left their cities. Heck, both logos feature the Mayflower, the ship that took their namesakes to the other side of the freaking world!

    The Aztecs of San Diego State. They may be close to Mexico, but assuredly not in it.

    And Aztecs never lived that far north even though New Mexico was part of Mexico

    Depending on how you look at it, there could be a LOT:

    Any team called “Penguins” “Lions”, “Bengals” or “Tigers”? They don’t naturally exist in the USA. Grizzlies don’t exist in Memphis, and to my understanding, never have.

    Other “fish out of water” names include Utah Jazz. Name definitely fits poorly after the relocation, as does LA Lakers.

    Toronto Raptors or other dino-based teams?

    Real Salt Lake – not only have they taken a Spanish treatment of a club name, there’s clearly no royalty in the US who would grant royal patronage to use such a title.

    Anyone else using royal titles (Kings, Royals, Knights) ? After all, part of the forming of the USA was rejection of royalty, and no American can be knighted (to my knowledge).

    Anyone using creatures from foreign mythology, such as gryphons or Titans?

    USC Trojans? MSU Spartans? Ancient and foreign societies.

    Washington wizards? Wizardry is considered a medieval, not North American, phenomenon.

    Minnesota Vikings?


    Other “fish out of water” names include Utah Jazz. Name definitely fits poorly after the relocation, as does LA Lakers.

    Uni Watch bylaw No. 183 dictates that I must now explain that when I was growing up, I didn’t realize the Lakers had originally come from Minneapolis, and I thought “Lakers” was an LA-based slang of some kind — “LA-kers.” Made sense to my young self. I was kinda disappointed when I learned that the team had been relocated from Minnesota.

    Minnesota is basically the hub of the Scandinavian diaspora in North America, and is rather proud of its Nordic heritage. I’d say the Vikings name fits.

    The Royals name actually came from the American Royal, a livestock show held annually in Kansas City.

    Soccer uniforms do that a lot! It’s part and parcel of the migration of the sport from olded days.

    Off the top of my head, link.

    ThresherK – to that end, Juventus switched from pink shirts to black and white stripes as a tribute to Notts County FC.

    Leeds United switched to all white in the 1960s to emulate Real Madrid.

    Boca Juniors chose their current club colours (lost a match to rivals with same colours) based on the flag of the next ship that arrived to port in La Boca. The ship was Swedish.

    Ironically Real Salt Lake took the “Real” because of one of the owners’ appreciation of the massive Madrid side, but the club wears colours that are far more closely aligned with Barcelona. They’ve bastardized bastardizing stuff!

    But.. is that the same? Uni colours vs. crests or titles? Either way, lots of cool stories around club colour choices.

    Ironically Real Salt Lake took the “Real” because of one of the owners’ appreciation of the massive Madrid side, but the club wears colours that are far more closely aligned with Barcelona.

    More like the colors of the Spanish national team. Only recently has RSL gone all-red; they wore blue shorts at the beginning (most of their fans want to see the blue shorts return on 2018). Their change kit is white, like Real Madrid.

    The term “Trolley Dodgers” was attached to the Brooklyn ballclub due to the complex maze of trolley cars that weaved its way through the borough of Brooklyn. The name was then shortened to just “Dodgers.


    “The Grizzlies are taking the unusual step of are retiring”

    My daughter worked at the Capitol many years ago, and she was not allowed to wear a sleepless dress then. Men are not allowed to wear short sleeved shirts, and a tie is a must.

    But now it’s today, not “many years ago,” so we should judge the sexism for what it is.

    Are men allowed to wear sleeveless shirts (i.e. tank tops) today? If not, then I wouldn’t consider it sexist. If there are different standards for men and women, then that would be sexist. Am I wrong?

    In reading the article, it appears that the problem is that the rules are vague and not clearly defined. 1. Do we want a dress code in today’s age of independence and informality? 2. If so, what exactly is permitted or forbidden? 3. Are the rules clearly communicated so people know ahead of time what to expect? 4. Are the rules fairly applied to men and women alike, or is there a double standard?

    That definitely appears to be part of the problem. The rules are neither clearly defined nor consistently enforced. That enforcement can then be used as a tool to selectively punish. The article indicates that men are loaned ties if they don’t have one; is there a corresponding courtesy extended to a woman who might run afoul of the rules?

    I don’t have any problem with dress codes in general or with this one specifically. But the enforcement appears to be problematic.

    What’s wrong with being sexy?

    Seriously, though, just do what my wife does. Throw one of those half-assed shawl things over your shoulders. Bingo!

    I believe the “FLOTUS” jersey presented to Michelle Obama is a USA Hockey jersey of that era.

    The U.S. Women’s National Team won gold at the World Championships in 2011. That might have also been part of the reason for a U.S. team jersey instead of a Blackhawk jersey.

    That could be it. I searched all over the place and racked my brain trying to figure out the relevance of the No. 23 with regards to Obama.

    He’s from Chicago. Michael Jordan played for Chicago and wore #23.

    Some people out there consider MJ to be the greatest NBA player, so it’s not a stretch that 44 really likes 23.

    Thank goodness for The Onion. How else would we know Barack has a lucky Minnesota Lynx jersey?

    Also the AHL piece: expansion.

    This would be a great time to break out a uni-design contest.
    I really believe Kansas City is on the map for a team (though I wish Albany would get a team back, it’s unlikely).

    I’d be surprised if KC got an AHL team. There’s an ECHL team in Independence, MO already. Not that I wouldn’t love to see an AHL squad play at the Sprint Center.

    The Exeter Chiefs are demonstrating nobody on God’s green earth has much control over symbols they might consider sacred. In the U.S. we may feel obliged to respect reverent aspects of Indian culture; across the pond that compulsion is far weaker.

    In Euro hockey there’s:
    Frolunda Indians
    HC Plzen(got theirs from 2nd Infantry div)
    Hannover Indians
    Leuven Chiefs
    Chelmsford Chieftains

    The swapping of sweater colours in the AHL is not uncommon in hockey. The three leagues in the CHL (OHL, WHL, QMJHL) do the same thing.

    I remember there was some question as to where that share had come from – turns out there were unsold shares from the 1997 sale, and Obama was given one of those. Many of the rest were sold to the public later that year.

    Not championship-related, but one of my favorite White House athlete visits came in in June of 1975, when Pele (just signed by the New York Cosmos) link.

    Maybe it’s no Elvis/Nixon, but there’s link is the slightly stodgy Ford, an old football man himself, standing next to the smooth and sexy Brazilian in his flared white suit (with matching shoes!). “I’ve read a lot about, er, your accomplishments.”

    The country is called “Nederland” natively or you can use the Anglo-exonym “Netherlands”, but it is not “The Netherlands”. Also, you mixed up the timing of the event with “last this month”. It starts in about 2 weeks (July 16th).

    Finally, about something you wrote yesterday, it is not “weird” to be “left handed and kick with your right foot” (I do that too). While right handed people are around 90% percent left-brain and therefore use the right side of their body naturally/exclusively. Lefties breakdown to:

    A. 37% Ambidextrous Brained
    B. 35% Right-Brain Dominant
    C. 28% Left-Brain Dominant

    Your observation puts you most likely in either A or C, because it is highly likely that your Right-Eye (controlled by the Left-Brain) Dominant.

    “Netherlands” without “the” sounds very wrong to me as English usage. Maybe we should stick with “Holland.”

    But Holland refers only to two provinces in the country; the Netherlands refers to the entire country.

    The Dutch government styles itself “the Netherlands” in English. (For example, check out the Dutch Embassy’s website: link and the Dutch permanent mission to the UN: link) That’s also been the universally accepted usage in English for almost twice as long as the Netherlands has been a country. In English, it’s the Netherlands, with the definite article.

    Considering the recent academic scandals at UNC-CH, it doesn’t surprise me that the athletic footwear has the left and right Tarheel device printed on the insoles.

    Too bad the day after Paul says his favorite NBA uniform is the Suns home white they now appear to be changing their uniforms (unconfirmed).

    I admire the Suns commitment to ignoring all of their great historical uniform elements, and their insistence on using awful fonts and completely generic designs instead.

    It seems they have a department that corrects their forays into good taste, doesn’t it?

    I like the original “Western font”. Also the uniforms during the Barkley era. But the current ones have really grown on me by taking some of the elements of the Barkley era uniforms but toning them down.

    Too bad the Wolfpack didn’t provide Obama with a customized “unitard”. (Yeah, I know those weren’t actually worn by the 83 team, but still…)

    Maybe that Rickey Henderson jersey giveaway is because the supplier made a big batch of them wrong (road lettering on home jersey) and they want to get rid of them.


    The other weird thing about that Rickey Henderson shirt, apart from it saying “Oakland” on a white shirt, is that the name on the back is straight across, rather than in the link that is on the actual uniform. It was an link that had a straight-across name.

    Regarding the Grizzlies and Zach Randolph: the White Sox retired Harold Baines’s number 3 after they traded him in 1989. (He later returned to the Sox for two more stints.) And the Braves retired Phil Niekro’s number 35 after he left the team as a free agent and signed with the Yankees in 1984. (He, too, returned to the team for one appearance.)

    Good find, thanks. Figured it might have been another 49er but couldn’t figure out who.

    Those are some weird looking NOB’s either way.

    There’s something really messed up when a new high school announces its team colors … Maybe Great Crossing HS did “mess up” one thing – looks like they flipped the Pantone codes for Navy and Kelly.

    Great site.
    The New York Islanders were the first Stanley Cup Champion to be greeted by the sitting US President. In 1983 members of the Islanders met Ronald Reagan, after winning their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. This event is captured on the cover of the New York Islanders 1983-84 Media Guide.


    Keep up the fine work.

    Interesting. Here was the source I used that said George H.W Bush was the first to invite a Stanley Cup winner to the White House:


    However, it seems that the Islanders certainly did meet Reagan based on your link…perhaps the venue for that was somewhere other than the White House?

    The wonderful thing about Google… I typed in “1983 new york islanders meet ronald reagan”, and link. And link.

    No jersey, but the President did receive an Islanders rug and an autographed stick.

    For what its worth, Sun Life is (or was) a jersey advertiser in the Canadian Football League.

    The CFL patch looks like their corporate logo.


    The logo they’re using on the Raptors uniform looks quite different. A casual scribble of a sun.


    On their website, they’re using both logos – their corporate logo (CFL) and their more casual logo (NBA).


    No idea what any of this means. Using a secondary, informal logo in their (very expensive) NBA jersey advertising seems a little unusual to me.

    Re: CFL jersey advertising. Sun Life advertising replaces each team’s individual regular season advertising spot in the playoffs and the Grey Cup.

    Sun Life advertising is on only in the playoffs and Grey Cup – for all the teams participating. This has been the arrangement since 2011.

    I know. I haven’t paid any attention to CFL this year so I wasn’t sure if they were still an advertiser or if they had any teams individually.

    My point was that they were using a different logo, not their corporate logo, for the Raptors than they’d used for the CFL.

    You lard-eating Yanks always amaze me with your “Presidential Pomp and Circumcrap”. Look at that, will you? The President of the “most powerful country in the free world” has time to collect jerseys and souvenirs from your feckless athletes but they can never quite find the time to pass legislation or provide US citizens with even 3rd world country healthcare, can they?


    Looks like the Sixers did give Reagan a customized jersey with his name on back. link Not sure why, but as a Sixers fan I like they idea that they are now the earliest confirmed NBA team to provide a customized jersey to a sitting President during a White House visit (probably).

    Thanks for finding and posting that. During my research, I mostly used still image searches and found the one with Reagan holding the Sixers jersey but couldn’t find one with the name on the back.

    So I’ll agree with you that the 1983 are the first confirmed team to provide a customized jersey. I’ll leave it up to Paul again if he wants to correct that in my article.

    Man, the Gipper looms large in uni-history. Reagan was the first president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch from the field, rather than the seats (Baltimore, 1986), the first president to wear team clothing while doing so (Chicago, 1988), and apparently the first to receive a custom jersey from a visiting champion. Reagan had a keen sense of the theatrical.

    Great archive of sports-related photos at the Reagan Library here: link

    Well, he had been both a sports broadcaster and an actor, so it kind of makes sense.

    Seems like I might have tapped into a gold mine of Presidential Uni images.

    Trust me, doing the research I could have written a encyclopedia length thesis on this and it was pretty tough to figure out what to leave out and squeeze in to fit Paul’s word limit.

    “The tradition of sports teams visiting the White House dates to at least Aug. 30, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals amateur baseball clubs. Ulysses S. Grant played host to the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1869. The first World Series championship team feted at the White House is believed to be the 1924 Washington Senators, who visited Calvin Coolidge at the executive residence the following year.”

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