I’ve written several times over the past year or two about how the journalism industry is going through some very rough times. I’ve been extremely fortunate to avoid those riptides, but my luck ran out a few days ago, when ESPN informed me that they will not be extending my contract for another year.
While this isn’t great news, it’s also not the end of the world. As a freelance writer, you’re never told, “You’re fired”; you’re told, “We’ve opted not to renew your contract.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard those words, and it probably won’t be the last. I’ve always landed on my feet before, and I intend to do so again this time. In some ways the situation is more challenging this time around (have I mentioned that this is not a great time for journalism?), but I also have certain advantages that I didn’t have before, not the least of which is this website, which gives me a base of operations, a platform, and a modest base income.
I want to make it clear that I have no gripes whatsoever with ESPN. Having my work showcased on the world’s foremost sports media enterprise for more than 14 years has been a privilege and a thrill, and I think the increased interest in uniforms that we now see throughout the sports world is due in part to the platform that Uni Watch enjoyed on ESPN. I’m grateful to Kevin Jackson for taking a chance on me back in 2004, and to the many talented editors, writers, and other colleagues I’ve been able to work with, including Michael Philbrick, Jena Janovy, Thomas Neumann, David Wilson, David Schoenfield, John Banks, Kevin Stone, Royce Webb, Michael Knisley, Darren Rovell, Matt Wilansky, Jim Caple, DJ Gallo, Sean Hintz, Chris Ramsay, Cynthia Faulkner, Kevin McGuire, Paul Grant, John Hassan, Lynn Hoppes, Kevin Ota, Rob King, Patrick Stiegman, Chad Millman, and probably a bunch more I’m forgetting. Many of those people are no longer with the company, either because they moved on to other things or because, in many cases, they were caught in one of the many waves of layoffs that have hit ESPN in recent years. I’m lucky to have dodged that bullet for as long as I did. It’s been a fun ride.
You probably have many questions. Allow me to anticipate some of them:
How long have you known about this?
I’ve known it was possible for a while, but I didn’t get the official word until last Thursday.
Why didn’t you tell us right away?
I had already planned to post the annual year-end raffle on Friday and didn’t want to delay that or put a damper on it, and then came the weekend, and then I didn’t want to interrupt our usual Monday Morning Uni Watch roundup yesterday. So that brings us to today.
So you’re done writing for ESPN?
Not quite. My contract runs through March 14, but ESPN was obligated to tell me by Dec. 15 if they’d be extending it by another year. Now that they’ve said no, I’ve entered what is essentially a three-month lame duck period. So I’m still on their active roster until mid-March, although I’m also going through the process of exploring what my next moves will be. This announcement is part of that process.
Does ESPN own the name “Uni Watch”?
No, that belongs to me. Nobody else at ESPN will be able to write under that column name.
What about this blog — does ESPN own that? I’ve never understood the relationship of the blog to the ESPN column.
This blog also belongs to me. I started writing for ESPN in 2004. The blog was launched (with ESPN’s blessing) in 2006, and was intended to supplement my ESPN work by providing an outlet for smaller uniform stories that weren’t ESPN-worthy. It has also served as a good staging area for ideas that weren’t yet ready for prime time but could eventually be developed into ESPN stories.
What will you do next, and what will that mean for this website?
Excellent question! Short answer: I’m not sure yet.
Longer answer: The way I see it, there are several ways this could play out. For example:
1. I could move my larger, non-blog writing to another sports media operation, like SI.com, or The Athletic, or Bleacher Report, or The Wall Street Journal sports section, or whatever, while still doing smaller stuff here on the blog. This would probably cause the least disruption for me (and for you) — things would be more or less like they are now, except I’d periodically say, “I have a new Athletic column today,” instead of “I have a new ESPN column today.” I also have an idea for a really fun non-uni sports column that I’d like to pursue. If any editors out there would like to discuss any of this with me, feel free to be in touch.
2. I could do all of my uniform writing here on this site instead of having Uni Watch split between the column and the blog. There would be certain advantages to bringing everything under one roof, but the big disadvantage, obviously, would be a huge loss of revenue. ESPN provided about 76% of my income this year, which is another way of saying that ESPN essentially subsidized the operation of this website. I don’t necessarily need to replace all of that income (I could get by on a bit less), but I definitely need to replace a good chunk of it. So if I consolidated all of my Uni Watch operations on this site, I would need more financial support from you folks, which would have to come via a Patreon-type setup.
I talked about doing that earlier this year, as you may recall. For a variety of reasons, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve been lazy about making it a priority, but I no longer have that luxury. If I’m going to keep writing about uniforms, I either need to hook up with another media operation or get some support from the Uni Watch readership. Probably both. (If you want to help support the site right now, here are some ways you can do that.)
3. I could stop writing about uniforms altogether and pursue other types of writing or creative projects. Over the years, I’ve been a business columnist, a food columnist, a travel columnist, a rock critic, and more (I’ve done less and less of those types of writing as Uni Watch has grown bigger and bigger), so in theory I could go back to that. In practice, though, it would be a much trickier proposition today than it would have been, say, 10 years ago (have I mentioned that this is not a great time for journalism?). Still, it’s a possibility, and I do have some ideas. If any editors out there are interested in talking with me, you know what to do.
4. I could get out of the freelance writing game and take an office job — something I haven’t had since 1996. I actually considered doing this two winters ago, when my last ESPN contract was up. It was shortly after the 2016 election and, like a lot of people, I felt like the world had shifted in some sort of seismic way, and I wondered if I should be doing something more important than writing about uniforms (not that writing about uniforms isn’t important in its own way, but you know what I mean). A nonprofit that I like and respect had an opening for a publications director — a job I could definitely handle. So for the first time in a quarter-century, I whipped up a résumé and applied for the gig. To my surprise, I got a call back, then a phone interview, then an in-person interview. Exciting! And then I didn’t get the job, and then ESPN offered me a new contract after all (the one that’s now expiring), so that was that.
I was very conflicted about the possibility of going back to an office and am not sure I would’ve taken the gig even if it had been offered to me, but the whole thing was a good learning experience. I’d say it’s unlikely that I’d go that route now, but it’s not out of the question. Again, if anyone is interested in discussing this with me, I’m all ears.
5. I’d like to think there’s at least one possibility, or even several, that I’m not currently aware of. My experience with work/career stuff has generally been that when one door closes, another one often opens. Maybe that will happen this time, too.
So, basically, everything is in flux. It’s a lot to think about, especially because I have some other creative projects kicking around in my head. There’s a short documentary film I’ve been wanting to make, for example. Now, I know nothing about filmmaking, but maybe this is precisely the right time to learn.
For now, though, I plan to keep publishing here every day, so it’ll be business as usual. I’ll give you plenty of warning if that’s going to change.
Doesn’t Uni Watch have some sort of notable anniversary coming up?
Yes. May 26 will be the 20th anniversary of the very first Uni Watch column being published in The Village Voice. Or to put it another way, it will be Uni Watch’s 20th birthday. I definitely plan on being around at least long enough to mark that occasion.
If you stopped doing the site, would you give it to someone else?
I would not just give Uni Watch away, no.
Would you sell the site to someone else?
For reasons not worth explaining here, I actually investigated selling the Uni Watch assets — the name, the site, the mailing list, etc. — a few years back. The problem, of course, is that there’s only a handful of people — you can probably guess who most of them are — who have the knowledge, interest, and chops to take over a project like Uni Watch. I approached all of those people, and they all declined (which, in retrospect, I’m happy about, because the last few years here have been good ones).
Even if there were any viable buyers, I’m not really looking to sell at the moment. But hey, if there’s someone out there I haven’t thought of who’s interested in Uni Watch, I’m always happy to listen.
If you sold Uni Watch, couldn’t you still do some uniform writing, just without the Uni Watch name?
If someone bought Uni Watch from me, I imagine they’d want me to agree to some sort of non-compete clause as part of the deal. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here — as I already said, I’m in no hurry to sell anything, and I doubt there’s even a viable buyer.
All this talk about selling the site or pursuing other projects — this is the beginning of the end, isn’t it? The arc of Uni Watch is clearly heading downward.
I can understand why some of this chatter might make you feel that way, but I assure you that we will still have full daily content, of the same quality you’ve come to expect, for the foreseeable future. I’m not going to mail it in or let the site run on auto-pilot; I’m just being transparent about some of the options I’m considering. The site is still very much an active and ongoing concern.
Your annual MLB Season Preview column usually runs on ESPN in late March. What will happen to that in 2019, and what about all your other season previews that usually run on ESPN?
It’s true, the MLB preview usually runs just a few days prior to Opening Day. If I end up getting hired by another media operation, that piece would make a good debut column (hint-hint). If I haven’t partnered with a new media outlet by then, we’ll just run the MLB preview here on the blog.
All of my other season previews (pro and college football, pro and college basketball, and NHL) run from late August through early November. I expect we’ll have everything sorted out by then.
I read that Darren Rovell, who sometimes writes about uniforms, is also leaving ESPN. Is that just a coincidence?
Yes, I’m pretty sure it’s just a coincidence. It’s not like ESPN had some grand plan to clear out all the uniform writers.
It really sucks that they gave you this news right around Christmas. That’s a shitty way to treat people.
The timing is unfortunate, but that’s not ESPN’s fault. As I mentioned earlier, my contract had a provision requiring them to tell me yea or nay by a certain date, which happened to be Dec. 15.
Would you consider expanding Uni Watch’s parameters, like doing a podcast?
In theory, I’d love to do a Uni Watch podcast, and I’m definitely open to it. In practice, though, I think it would be tricky, because it’s difficult to address small visual details in an audio format. The design podcast 99% Invisible is very good at this, so maybe I can learn from their approach, but it still seems like a potential mismatch of subject matter and format.
You recently mentioned something about pitching a Uni Watch TV series. Maybe now you’d have time for that..?
In 2016 and ’17 I worked with an L.A. production company that was interested in pitching a Uni Watch TV series. But we were caught in a weird Catch-22 situation, because I was connected to ESPN, so ESPN was the only network we could pitch it to. Now that they’re cutting me loose, we could go back and pitch all the other networks. So yeah, that’s possible — I’ve already talked to the production company about it. We’ll see.
I think that’s it, at least for now. I’ll do my best to keep everyone in the loop. If you have questions, feel free to post them in today’s comments and I’ll do my best to respond. Thanks for listening.
We’ve seen NBA players lose a sneaker before. We’ve even seen some of them pick up the sneaker and keep playing while holding the wayward footwear.
But Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson took things a step further during the opening minutes of last night’s game against the Kings. He lost his sneaker, picked up it up, kept holding it during an entire defensive possession, and contested a shot with it. You can see the whole sequence in the video shown above.
Unfortunately, the shot didn’t make contact with the sneaker, which would have made for an interesting situation.
(My thanks to Mike Chamernik and our own Alex Hider for this one.)
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Ho-ho-ho: The Devils gave hockey fans an early Christmas gift yesterday, as they announced that they’ll be wearing green-trimmed throwbacks for four upcoming games: Dec. 23 vs. the Blue Jackets, Jan. 10 vs. the Maple Leafs, Jan. 31 vs. the Rangers, and March 1 vs. the Flyers. Those are all home games, so the visiting teams will wear their colored home uniforms.
Stripe hype: There’s nothing particularly unusual about a vintage Durene jersey with UCLA-style striping (I have several of them myself). But UCLA inserts are usually restricted to the shoulders. I’ve never seen them extending all the way down the front of the jersey like the ones in the photo shown above. It’s as though the stripes forgot to stop. The visual effect is almost like vestments.
And it gets better (or worse, depending on your point of view) — the UCLA stripes also extend down the back of the jersey:
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. The jersey was discovered on Etsy by our membership card designer, Scott Turner. Very interesting find! I wonder which sport it was for.
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By Brinke Guthrie
One week until Christmas! Collector’s Corner is here with some last-minute shopping items for you. Let’s begin with this San Francisco Giants “Ugly Christmas Sweater.” I must admit I’ve never embraced the ugly sweater concept, but to each his/her own!
Now for the rest of this week’s picks:
• This is a rather conservative-looking 1970s Bucco Bruce jacket, made by “Active Generation.”
• Another low-key look, this time for a 1970s Patriots sweater.
• This 1960s Baltimore Bullets decal (kids, that’s who the Washington Wizards used to be) looks like a bullet.
• These are called “MLB All-Star Masks.” You cut these out and, uh, put them on your face. You get The Wiz, Mark Grace, Wally Joyner and Ryne Sandberg.
• Behold the 1970 Milwaukee Brewers yearbook cover, their first year in Wisconsin. Notice you don’t see any team branding; this player could easily be a Seattle Pilot. As you can see, the first Brewers uniforms were pretty much the same as the Pilots’.
• Here’s another program cover from 1970: Nice graphics for the Phoenix Suns.
• And one more good-looking game program, a 1981 Pro! GameDay issue for the Bengals/Browns. The player on the right sure looks like Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, who was a rookie that season and in reality wore No. 78.
• Cowboys fans, keep your coffee warm in this 1970s “Airpot Thermal Coffee Dispenser.”
• The Atlanta Flames logo is featured on this red/yellow 1970s hockey skate bottle opener/paperweight.
Finally, a programming note: Look for Collector’s Corner on Thursday for the next two weeks (Dec. 27 and Jan. 3). Back to our regular Tuesday slot on Jan. 8.
Seen an item on eBay that would be good for Collector’s Corner? Send any submissions here.
Membership update: We launched the membership card program nearly a dozen years ago. In that time we’ve produced over 1,950 cards, and according to my records, not a single one of them has been based on a wrestling singlet — until now.
The card shown at right was requested the other day by reader Solomon Duncan. It’s based on the singlets worn by USA Wrestling at the 2018 World Championships. Solomon went the extra mile by providing us with all the key design specs from the international wrestling uniform guideines:
• The shade of blue is Pantone 299.
• The font for the family name (i.e., the wrestler’s last name) is Arial Narrow, and the font for the country code (USA) is Arial. The letters for the family name and country code must be in uppercase, unless the name is more than eight letters, in which case lowercase letters shall be used following the first capital letter.
Membership card designer Scott Turner and I love it when a membership enrollee provides that kind of info — in part because it helps us design the card correctly, but also because we geek out over those types of details. Great stuff.
Remember, a Uni Watch membership card entitles you to a 15% discount on any of the merchandise in our Teespring shop. (If you’re an existing member and would like to have the discount code, email me.) As always, you can sign up for your own custom-designed card here, you can see all the cards we’ve designed so far here, and you can see how we produce the cards here.
Raffle reminder: In case you missed it last Friday, our annual year-end raffle, featuring dozens of cool items (including the Akron Wingfoots jersey shown above), is now underway. Full details here.
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New neighborhood, new vet: Uni Watch girl mascot Caitlin, apparently under the mistaken impression that she’s actually a rooster, has developed the completely annoying habit of meowing very loudly each morning at about 5:15am. Aside from that, her behavior and demeanor seem unchanged. We’ve tried tiring her out before bedtime, feeding her before bedtime, ignoring her, etc., none of which has worked, so I figured I’d better bring her to the vet, just in case it’s something medical.
It was our first time going to the vet in our new neighborhood, and we were both impressed by the level of care from the staff (including Dr. Siara Richardson, shown above). Everyone agreed that Caitlin seems fine, but they took some blood and urine samples and sent them off to the lab, just to be sure. We should have the results back by tomorrow. Fingers crossed!
Meanwhile, she keeps howling every morning. I have really good earplugs, but they don’t help. Ay yi yi.
KRC update: The latest installment of Key Ring Chronicles is about a gun trigger. I really like this one. Check it out here.
By Alex Hider
Baseball News: Could the Mets be bringing back the bullpen cart? This video seems to imply that it’s possible (from Jason Lefkowitz). … New O’s manager Brandon Hyde will wear No. 18 (from Andrew Cosentino). … The Reds sent fans a holiday greeting, and the video includes a stirrup-ed stocking (from Joanna Zweip). … Paul Smielewski came across this eBay listing for a 1969 A’s jersey — but without the MLB Centennial patch. Could it be from 1970? … Milwaukee’s minor league hockey team, the Admirals, will wear Brewers-inspired sweaters on March 8 and 9 (thanks to all who shared).
NFL News: Eagles defensive backs passed a ski mask around the sidelines yesterday, their way of saying they need to “steal” their way into the playoffs (from Sam McKinley ). … Bears RB Jordan Howard’s thigh pads have featured his uni number and the Bears’ logo in recent games (from Richard A.). … According to an email that Joseph Bailey received from the NFL’s research arm, more than half of fans surveyed like to see teams wear various alternate uniforms on occasion. … In a sketch cut for time from last weekend’s episode of SNL, Matt Damon donned a slick Fran Tarkenton Vikings throwback. It’s a shame that jersey didn’t make it to air.
College Football News: Yesterday, Notre Dame offered another look at the jersey the Irish will wear during the Cotton Bowl (from Aaron Muscarela). … It looks like Rice will be wearing new versions of the Oregon-inspired winged helmets in the future (from Ignacio Salazar). … Here’s an extensive interview and tour of West Point with Army’s equipment manager (from Griffin Smith).
Hockey News: The Pens wore white at home last night, and the visiting Ducks wore their Mighty Ducks fauxbacks (from Noah Kastroll). … Reports indicate that the logo for Seattle’s future expansion team could future indigenous art in its logo (from Jimmy Wong). … Another band has officially been removed from the Stanley Cup (from Alan Kreit). … At least one wrestler was wearing a Sharks sweater at a WWE event in San Jose on Sunday (from Andrew Paterson). … The Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL wore sweaters inspired by the ’90s Toronto Argonauts Sunday night to honor former Argo Pinball Clemons (from Moe Khan). … The Cleveland Monsters and the Rochester Americans are starting a college football-style rivalry, complete with a trophy, and are seeking ideas from fans about what the trophy should look like and what it should be called (from Dylan). … Cross-listed from the baseball section: The Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL will wear Milwaukee Brewers-inspired sweaters on March 8 and 9 (thanks to all who shared). … The Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League wore Christmas sweater jerseys on Saturday (from Ian White).
Basketball News: As he did in his first stint with the Wizards, Trevor Ariza will wear No. 1 now that he’s been traded back to Washington from from Phoenix. And in Suns news, Kelly Oubre Jr. will wear No. 3 and Austin Rivers has been assigned No. 99, although he’s already been waived and will likely never wear it (all this from Etienne Catalan, who’s been obsessively tracking new NBA uni number assignments from France). … An Iowa community has raised nearly $1,000 to purchase sweat-wicking sport hajibs for Muslim girls on a local junior high basketball team (from Chris Adringa).
Soccer News: Legion FC, Birmingham’s new USL franchise, has unveiled its new away jerseys (from Simon Iles and Ed Zelaski). … Betting companies will soon be able to advertise on the jerseys of Brazilian club teams (from Josh Hinton). … New jerseys for Fortaleza of Colombia’s Categoría Primera B (from Ed Zelaski).
Grab Bag: American slider Austin Florian had quite the helmet at the IBSF World Cup skeleton event in Winterberg, Germany. … The candy company Cadbury has been involved in a trademark dispute over a proprietary shade of purple. … North Carolina wrestling coaches wore team Christmas sweaters during a meet on Saturday (from James Gilbert). … An investigative report has found that Badger Sportswear, a North Carolina company whose products are sold in university bookstores around the country, has some of its product manufactured by forced labor in Chinese detention camps (from WB Young). … White House policy advisor Stephen Miller apparently wore spray-on hair while appearing on a Sunday-morning talk show.