For all photos, click to enlarge
I recently received an email from a guy named Dan Skinner, who explained that he was (a) a longtime Uni Watch reader and (b) the brand communications manager for Hebrew National hot dogs. He said an all-Jewish softball team that plays in a church league in Albuquerque, N.M., had contacted him a few months earlier to ask if it would be alright to change their team’s name to the Hebrew Nationals. “We decided we could do a lot more than just that,” said Skinner. “We designed a complete set of softball uniforms for them!”
I followed up with Skinner on the phone, after which he put me in touch with the softball team’s coach, Scott Fliegel, who agreed to a phone interview. Here’s an edited/condensed version of our conversation:
Uni Watch: First please tell me a little about yourself. Where do you live, how old are you, and what do you do for a living?
Scott Fliegel [shown at right]: Sure. I’m 55, I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I’m a project manager.
UW: Tell me about your team and the league that you play in.
SF: It’s a city league, called the Church League. Almost every team is affiliated in one way or another with a church. There’s a church on every corner here in Albuquerque, so there’s a lot of teams, in five divisions.
Our team, we’re not a super-religious bunch, but we were affiliated for many years with one of the four Jewish synagogues here in Albuquerque. But we recently decided to change the name of our team, and also to end that specific affiliation. Most everyone on our team is Jewish, and maybe involved with the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation, or any number of other Jewish organizations, but we didn’t feel we needed that connection to this one synagogue.
UW: Are the other teams all affiliated with Christian churches, or are there Muslim teams, Buddhist, or whatever?
SF: I wish there was more diversity, but all the other teams are affiliated with Christian churches. At one point a few years back our group had enough players to field a second team, so there were two Jewish teams.
UW: What was your team’s previous name?
SF: We were the Congregation Albert — that’s the name of the synagogue — Lions.
UW: And what sorts of uniforms did you have?
SF: We just had a V-neck jersey with “Congregation Albert Lions” on the front and a number on the back. We didn’t have uniform hats or pants. The requirement from the city is that we have a team jersey with a number on it.
UW: And how did you get the idea to change the name to Hebrew Nationals?
SF: The whole team had a vote toward the end of last season, because we knew we were going to change the name for 2019. There were a couple of other names in the running — I can’t remember what they were — but most people seemed to like Hebrew Nationals.
UW: I think a lot of people would have just chosen the name and not worried about asking the company for permission. I mean, if you had simply gone ahead and done it, they probably would never have heard about it, and probably wouldn’t have cared even if they did hear about it, don’t you think?
SF: Probably. But we have some lawyers on my team, and I was thinking I might as well call them, because I didn’t want to get in any trouble. But I had another motive, which was this: If they were okay with us using the name, would they also be willing to send us a logo that I could put on our jerseys? I liked the font, the colors, the whole thing.
UW: So instead of that, they offered to make a full uniform set for you?
SF: Exactly. Dan Skinner, our contact at Conagra [Hebrew National’s parent company], he said, “I don’t know if it’s okay to use the name — let me check with our legal department.” And then he got back to me and said, “Not only are we fine with it, but we all love the idea and want to sponsor the team.”
UW: And what was your reaction?
SF: I was like, are you kidding me? That sounded great! I said yeah, let’s do that.
UW: How involved were you and your teammates, if at all, in the design process?
SF: They came up with a few versions and sent us mock-ups, and we chose the one we liked best.
UW: I was a little surprised that they didn’t add an “s” to their logo on the jersey, so that it would say “Nationals,” to match your team name, instead of “National.” Did you discuss that with them?
SF: No, I didn’t — and I haven’t. We’re grateful for the uniforms. But I did notice that, and I do wish they’d included the “s.” [Dan Skinner, the Conagra guy, told me that changing the logo to pluralize it would have been too involved. — PL]
UW: They’re giving you caps, pants, and socks along with the jerseys. Do any of the other teams in your league do the full uniform like that?
SF: No, never.
UW: So you guys are really going to stick out as the most fully uniformed team in the league this year.
SF: No question.
UW: Do you have any concerns about looking like Hebrew National billboards or advertisements, or even looking like hot dog vendors?
SF: No, I really don’t.
UW: Were you a Hebrew National customer before this?
SF: I was! They sell ’em at Costco, and we all grew up eating Hebrew National hot dogs. And now I’ll definitely be a Hebrew National customer going forward.
UW: Are there any vegetarians on your team?
SF: You know, that’s a great question. I don’t know!
UW: If you did, you’d probably know. It would come up as part of the social camaraderie of the team — or it would have come up when you started talking about naming your team after a hot dog brand!
Nice story, right? Hebrew National also supplied the team with a pair of bats. The team won’t use them on the field (wood bats aren’t allowed), but they plan to use them as rally sticks:
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Paul, I thought you were opposed to corporate marketing on uniforms!” True enough. But come on, this is church softball league. And I like how everyone here has operated with such a sense of goodwill: The team didn’t have to ask permission to use the name (like I said in the interview, the company would probably never have known about it), but they asked anyway. And the company didn’t have to grant them permission, but they did — and then they decided to go the extra mile. And I’m happy to say that the word “branding” didn’t come up even once in my discussions with Skinner and Fliegel. The whole thing strikes me as more of a feel-good softball story than a corporate story, which is to the credit of everyone involved. I say it’s kosher.
One last thought: Having been to Albuquerque, and being a big neon sign fan, I know that the town has a gorgeous hot dog joint called the Dog House. Check this out (but you might want to mute the sound):
So good! Perhaps the team could pose for some photos under the Dog House sign, or get the restaurant involved in some way..? Alas, according to Fliegel, the team coach, the Dog House serves Vienna Beef dogs, not Hebrew National. Dang.
The Hebrew Nationals’ season begins on Monday. I for one will be rooting for them.
NFL schedule announcements: It wasn’t so long ago that NFL teams would just say, “Here’s our schedule” and leave it at that. But nowadays teams commit some serious creative energy into publicizing their schedules. With the 2019 NFL slate announced yesterday, I was amazed by the lengths that some teams went to. The Packers, for example, came up with a fantastic Pac Man-inspired video clip — check this out:
Game On: The 2019 #Packers schedule is here! 🕹
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) April 18, 2019
Okay, so they got the Lions’ helmet wrong and apparently didn’t have time to update the Chargers’ facemask color, but still — so good! Kudos to all involved.
The Steelers’ announcement was based on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood — a sweet nod to Pittsburgh’s own Fred Rogers, and it runs nicely against the grain of the NFL’s usual shock-and-awe messaging style:
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Let’s head to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe for our 2019 schedule… pic.twitter.com/blrW7zjwsW
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 18, 2019
The Falcons’ video is Game of Thrones-themed:
Football is coming.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) April 17, 2019
Weirdest one of the bunch: the Cowboys. Dig:
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) April 18, 2019
More out-of-date helmets, but whatever. It’s about the most un-Cowboys-like thing I can imagine, and I mean that as a compliment.
I don’t know who’s coming up with these, but they’re more interesting that 90% of what we see during halftime reports, sideline reports, and so on.
(My thanks to CB Mallow, Anakin Forrest, Ephraim Vorzman, and Victor Quintana for bringing these to my attention.)
Photo by Doug MacCash, NOLA.com; click to enlarge
Un-bead-able: The gentleman shown above is Vernon Martin Jr., and the photo was taken at last month’s Uptown Super Sunday Mardi Gras Indian procession. Martin’s incredible coat featured lots of incredible bead mosaics, several of which were Saints-themed. Dig (all photos by Doug MacCash, NOLA.com; click to enlarge):
(My thanks to Uni Watch New Orleans bureau chief Scott M.X. Turner for this one, along with my apologies for taking so long to post it.)
Very belated (but welcome) response: I receive a lot of really special emails from Uni Watch readers. I think it’s safe to say that it’ll be a while before I receive one as good as the one that came in last night from a reader named Dennis:
Way back in 2004ish, when Mr. Lukas started his “Uni Watch” column on ESPN, I read his work and was a bit dumbfounded by the basis of the column. I struggled with the fact that a writer was writing about athletes’ uniforms rather than their accomplishments.
After reading the article several times, and pondering, I sent Paul an email. I don’t recall the details, but it was likely an unsuccessful attempt to be humorous by pointing out what I felt was the silliness of the “uniform” concept. I do however recall that I ended the note with the comment that “I hope I never meet you.” That’s a pretty horrible thing to say to anyone, but again, I was trying to be funny.
To my amazement, Paul responded with something along the lines of “Uh, thanks? I hope to never meet you too.”
Since that time, I have followed Paul’s column when I tripped across it, and really enjoyed the insight. But for 15 years my troll-like email has bothered me. It came across as mean-spirited.
So I apologize, Paul. You proved me wrong (not hard to do, so don’t let it go to your head).
Good luck in your new endeavor. I will follow, and someday I’d be happy to meet you.
That’s pretty amazing.
I don’t remember my original exchange with Dennis, although I do recall that there were plenty of emails like the one he describes during my early days at ESPN. I hope Dennis isn’t the only one who eventually Got It™ after some initial skepticism.
More importantly, Dennis’s note shows that it’s never too late to apologize — a lesson that’s good for all of us to remember from time to time. After I read his note, I called my brother and apologized for something petty I’d said to him a while back. It led to a good conversation. A win-win.
This whole episode is also a teachable moment about communication on the internet. Would Dennis have said something rude and demeaning to my face? Of course not. But the internet has this way of lowering inhibitions, erasing boundaries, and providing a sense of invisibility, anonymity, and lack of consequences. We’ve all been there (sometimes in the comments section of this website), but that doesn’t make it okay. Fortunately, as Dennis’s latest email shows, the internet often provides an avenue to make amends as well.
So thanks for that, Dennis. I’d be happy to meet you, too.
Click to enlarge
ITEM! One-day T-shirt raffle: Reader Jon Eidukas likes our new Goodyear-inspired T-shirts so much that he bought one for himself and has generously offered to purchase one for a lucky raffle winner.
To enter this raffle, send an email with your color preference (green or grey), size, and shipping info to the raffle address by 10pm Eastern tonight. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow.
’Skins Watch: A Native American teen in Oklahoma is fighting for the right to wear Native regalia at his upcoming high school graduation, and is the latest in a series of Native grads to face this issue. … Fairview Park, Ohio, is the latest town whose school district has voted to scrap its Native sports imagery (from K.C. Kless). … A Buffalo TV station is using the secondary ’Skins logo instead of the primary.
Baseball News: Here’s some great newsreel footage from the first game ever played at Shea Stadium. See the uniform being worn by this ticket-taker? Sure enough, that matches up with the uni shown in an old stadium uniform catalog that I wrote about last year. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves, who play in Jackson, Miss., will wear 1990s Jackson Generals throwbacks on June 28. Their opponents will be the current Jackson Generals, a Diamondbacks affiliate based in Jackson, Tenn. So the game will be Jackson (Miss.) Generals vs. Jackson (Tenn.) Generals! (From Bill Hetrick.) … Two Padres — SS Manny Machado and LF Wil Myers — appeared to be wearing glossy batting helmets, instead of the team’s usual matte, in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game. They had worn matte up until that point. It was raining at the end of the game, so you might think that could have caused the glossy effect, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve asked Padres radio broadcaster and longtime uni-watcher Jesse Agler to investigate (good spot by Chris Fahrman). … The jersey logo for Adair County High School in Kentucky is positioned awfully high, and also manages to poach both the Braves and Florida State (from Josh Claywell, who says the team, which is called the Indians, also has Wahoo on the outfield fence for good measure). … Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper says he’d love to redesign many MLB teams’ uniforms (from Jason Diebold). … A street in Baltimore has been renamed for Frank Robinson, with the Orioles’ logo on the street sign. … Pepperdine will wear 1979 tequila sunrise throwbacks on April 28. The interesting thing there is that they were wearing that design when the Astros were still wearing it! (From Max G.) … New “Beer City” uniforms, celebrating regional craft breweries, for the Asheville Tourists. … Here’s a guide to the 24 Cincinnati locations with statues of Mr. Redlegs in throwback uniforms. … Here’s some rare newsreel footage of one-armed St. Louis Browns OF Pete Gray in action. … Not uni- or visual-related, but still pretty amazing: Reds 1B Joey Votto popped out to first base last night — the first time in his 13-year career that he’s ever done so. Really! … White Sox SS Tim Anderson appears to have a “TA”-monogrammed belt (from Malcolm MacMillan). … The Mets apparently misspelled P Noah Syndergaard’s surname on their own scoreboard (from Eric Abneri).
Football News: Broncos coach Vic Fangio is having the players wear their game jerseys, instead of practice jerseys, in minicamp. He says it’s because the game jerseys are tighter-fitting, so the players won’t develop bad jersey-grabbing habits. One positive result of this is that the ads normally worn on the team’s practice jerseys are nowhere to be found on the minicamp game jerseys (from Brian Spiess). … Here’s a video clip that shows keyboardist/vocalist Mike Lindup of British band Level 42 wearing a Bears jersey with an inaccurate number font (from Jim Vilk). … 1970s Packers RB Barty Smith wore a “B. E. Smith” NOB early in his career, because WR Barry Smth was also on the roster. Rare to see two initials! … The NFL will have four games in the UK this season, including two at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium. According to this ESPN article, the Packers are the only NFL team not to have played in the UK. … Some new uni number assignments for the Colts (from Jarrod Campbell). … The AAF filed for bankruptcy yesterday (shocker). According to this paywalled WSJ article, the league listed among its assets “property including jerseys, pads, and other football equipment,” which will presumably be sold off to help pay creditors. … Hmm, did the Jags’ schedule announcement include a tease of a new 25th-anniversary logo? (From Jason Farmand.) … What’s even better than TV numbers on the sleeves? TV ads! That’s a player for the Kragujevac Wild Boars, a team in the Central European Football League (from Jim Roddy). … I’m not sure what a “custom compression top” is, but Florida has them and they look pretty weird (from Hunter G).
Hockey News: After the Wild agreed on Tuesday to keep playing in their current arena through 2035, team owner Craig Leipold and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter posed with a No. 2035 Wild jersey (from @faithson77). … Athletic Knit — a company that I confess I’d never even heard of before — is now the official jersey provider of the ECHL. … At a memorial service for a longtime Maple Leafs usher who died earlier this month, family members wore Leafs jerseys with No. G1 — short for Gate One, which was the gate where the deceased usher worked.
Basketball News: Inaugural uniforms for the Fraser Valley Bandits of the new Canadian Elite Basketball League. “The team is based in Abbotsford, British Columbia,” says Canadian uni specialist Wade Heidt. … Here’s a Baylor uniform that apparently wasn’t part of the school’s recent uni unveiling (from @squatcheeontop).
Soccer News: New kit outfitter for Reading FC (from Ed Zelaski). … Some of next season’s kits are being released, even though it’s still this season. Among the new releases: for Liverpool and Scottish junior team Clydebank (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … The first pictures of the next-gen Adidas Nemeziz 19+ boots have leaked, and so have new kits from Leicester City, São Paulo, and Santos (all of those from Josh Hinton). … Also from Josh: New kits for CA Bragantino.
Grab Bag: New uniforms for Italian volleyball officials (from Jeremy Brahm). … Cycling news: Team Sky will officially become Team Ineos on April 30, a day earlier than planned, with the new name to debut at the Tour de Romandie, but their new kit will be held back for the Tour de Yorkshire (from Matt Dowell). … The sports world is noticing that if rapper Drake wears a team’s jersey, it often turns out to be bad luck. … After a bit of local controversy, the Laguna Beach (Cal.) City Council has voted to keep the American flag-based deisgn on the city’s police cars. … U.S. special operations forces are getting a new combat helmet. … A comment from Adidas Tennis on this Instagram post indicates that the company will no longer include the “RG” logo, for Roland Garros, on its French Open attire: “[O]ur official partnership with this tournament has ended, so we’re no longer in a position to include that logo on our outfits” (thanks, Brinke). … Helvetica, the world’s most popular typeface, is getting a facelift. … I still call it Gateway Motorsports Park (from Chris Hickey). … The Olentangy (Ohio) Local School District’s new logo is a bit of a head-scratcher for local residents. … Oh, for fuck’s sake: The flight-progress maps on airplane seat-back video screens are about to become flooded with targeted advertising (WSJ link) (from Jack Wade). … Notre Dame has hired its first female leprechaun mascot (from Kary Klismet).