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ESPN’s NFL Uni Coverage Is Really, Really Bad

I wrote for ESPN for nearly 15 years, from the summer of 2004 through March of 2019. I have nothing but good things to say about my time there — great people, lots of editorial freedom (plus the freedom to do this blog while doing feature-length stories for them), and of course it was a privilege to have my work running on the world’s preeminent sports media platform. Even when they let me go, they gave me plenty of notice, and they had already kept me on through several rounds of earlier layoffs that claimed a bunch of my colleagues, so I had a good run. No hard feelings, then or now.

All of which is to say, I have absolutely zero axe to grind when it comes to ESPN, even regarding their uniform coverage. It’s common now for media outlets to have beat reporters write about uniforms, so I can understand why ESPN no longer felt the need to keep a full-time uni reporter on the payroll.

However … several readers have alerted me to the fact that ESPN has published some really shoddy uni-matchup previews for Weeks 2 and 3 of the current NFL season. Among other things:

  • These previews repeatedly describe the Cowboys’, Lions’, Panthers’, Pats’ and Raiders’ silver helmets as “gray.” You can certainly make a case for using that term with these teams’ once-silver pants, but the helmets are clearly still silver.
  • Even more confoundingly, the previews describe the Bucs’ helmet as “gray.”
  • They also describe the Commanders’ burgundy/maroon elements as “red.”
  • The Week 2 and Week 3 previews both said the Rams would be wearing white pants. That would qualify as major news if it were true, because the Rams do not have any white pants in their portfolio.
  • The Week 2 preview also called for the Cardinals to be wearing red helmets. Maybe in the Bizarro World, but in this world the Cardinals do not have a red helmet.
  • The Week 2 preview also mistakenly said that the Pats’ throwback jersey is white (it’s actually red) and that the throwback combo would be returning to the field “after a 10-year hiatus” (it actually returned last season).
  • The Week 3 preview said the Panthers would be wearing black pants, but they actually wore grey.
  • The Week 3 preview also said the Pats would pair their navy jersey with white pants. Again, that would be a major news flash, because the Pats don’t have any non-throwback white pantsInstead, they went navy over navy, as usual.

That’s a lot of mistakes for something that’s basically just copying/pasting info from teams’ Twitter feeds.

These previews were put together by a guy named Anthony Gharib, who according to his LinkedIn page joined ESPN a few weeks ago after interning for three months at USA Today Sports. He graduated from USC earlier this year, which means he’s younger than Uni Watch.

I don’t mean to pick on Gharib. I made a ton of mistakes when I was fresh out of college too (and still make some now), and I’m sure he’ll get better as his career progresses. But if ESPN is gonna put a rookie on the uni beat — or, really, on any beat — they should fact-check him, or at least have someone skimming the copy who’s sufficiently NFL-knowledgeable to say, “Wait a minute, the Cardinals don’t have a red helmet!” ESPN’s readers, and the uni-verse, deserve better.

Meanwhile, if you really want to know what NFL teams will be wearing from week to week, your best source, as always, is the mighty Gridiron Uniform Database.

Comments (31)

    I know you don’t have anything negative to say about ESPN, but I struggle to find anything positive about them these days. From the annoying artificial bat crackn sound they’ve put into their baseball coverage to the lack of any real fact checking. I’ve all but stopped watching/reading ESPN these days.

    He does the college football uniform previews as well. I thought he was planted there by Nike or Adidas because he tends to stick to the new and outlandish stuff, and he raves about all of it.

    I think it’s more likely he just has different taste in uniform due to being younger person. I can’t imagine Nike or Adidas would need to pay a plant for uniform commentary.

    I understand having different tastes. I’m saying in my experience of reading him, he only writes about the different stuff and hasn’t met an alt he hasn’t liked. That might change, but for now he comes across as a PR person for Big Uni.
    And from what Paul said about his NFL coverage, he needs to spend more time doing research, or at least paying attention to what he’s scraping from the web.

    I am a current student at a Big Ten university (like USC) in the midwest. I have been reading Uni-Watch since age ten. If anyone knows a good contact at ESPN, I will happily replace this man remotely and do a much better, I promise, job. I know my throwback from my faux-back and my BFBS from my GFGS, my silvers from my greys and my burgundys and maroons from reds.

    Dear Mr Gharib, congratulations on what seems to be a new gig, and most likely one that you are thrilled about and will open up great opportunities to you in the future. As someone who studied and worked in journalism and design, and someone who is passionate about athletic designs and fashion, I have a bit of unsolicited advice: check the comment boards on sites like uni-watch and sportslogos and get a feel for how particular and detail oriented your target audience can be. I know you know that accuracy and thoroughness is paramount in any kind of writing, but when it comes to this niche, you are dealing with a whole other level. People who discern between not just grey and silver but shades, tones, and finishes. Flat silver, metallic silver, silver flake, and chrome are not created equal in the eyes of the athletic fashionista, and believe me you’ll hear about it and it’s not always going to be polite. Save yourself and keep an eye on even the finest details. I know you’ll do great if this is a passion of yours. I wish you all the luck on behalf of myself and the entire uni community, and know that we may not all be professional designers or writers or athletes, but we are, collectively and individually, great sources of support, information, experience and advice. Not whoever we all are individually, we are cut from the same cloth, pun retroactively intended.

    I am not sure “we” are the target audience. I think ESPN is trying to capitalize on the commercial elements of sports uniforms. I love Jimmer’s phrase “big uni.” if you notice, they also are profiling what athletes are wearing to the stadium. Everyone is branding, everyone is hyping. Think of Michael Strahan outfitting the University of Colorado football team in his signature Men’s Wearhouse in line. Logos and aesthetics are not as important as sales. They are fighting for clicks, and sales, we are fighting for beauty.

    if you notice, they also are profiling what athletes are wearing to the stadium.

    That bugs me to no end when I’m scouring more than a hundred schools’ Twitter feeds to find an early photo of the uniforms for the 5&1. I don’t care what you wear off the field.
    And almost every school has the same rote formula: photos of the team getting on the plane or bus, photos of the walk to the stadium, the obligatory in-game shot of the lineman holding up the TD scorer as if he’s Baby from Dirty Dancing. Eventually I get a smattering of game photos… some of which I actually can use.

    The Baby lift, and the JumpNBump celebration… so overplayed and ridiculous. Then there’s the habit across all levels of football to smack a dude in the head after a big play. It’s especially cringeworthy after a receiver has held on following a big hit. Up walks a teammate to wallop the back of his head. Yikes.

    My biggest issue with espn is that, too often, I can’t ignore the fact that it’s grown men getting joy and profit from criticizing children. Many of those children are just out of college and have been chosen by a big corporation to entertain the masses at a high level, and here’s a bunch of adults who either couldn’t do what these kids are doing, or can’t do it at their level anymore and are not responsible for their employment, who go out of their way to criticize – very harshly – children who are relatively new to the professional level of their passions.

    I appreciate your sentiment, but these ‘children’ (presumably you’re referring to athletes) are for the most part young men in their 20s and 30s. I think it’s a big overwrought to act as if Stephen A Smith is screaming about random Parks and Recs 9 year old soccer players.

    I’m 100% sure we’re not the target audience, just as die-hard Vikings fans aren’t the target audience for the recap and box score of the Vikings game. People for whom “being a Vikings fan” is a part of their identity have innumerable blogs and Twitter accounts to follow for Vikings news (not to mention their own eyes, which probably watched the game). The ESPN recap is there for casual fans who just want to know what the score was and if Justin Jefferson caught a TD pass or not. Likewise, the uni coverage is there for casual fans who just happened to notice that, oh hey, the Bengals are wearing all white today, I wonder what the deal is with that. People who actually care about these sorts of things (who Get It, you might say) already have places that are infinitely more informative than any ESPN article: here, the GUD,, etc. ESPN is not trying to compete with that, and I don’t blame them. They’ve made the business decision to do the bare minimum, and that shows. But the bare minimum is different in 2023 than it was when Paul first started writing. One of the reasons this place is what it is is because there wasn’t a lot of breaking news. You didn’t need a daily/weekly MLB tracker column, because the home teams wore white and the away teams wore gray. Paul had a lot more space to do what he does best, which is to dig into obscurities. That, to me, is the biggest difference between what Paul does and what this Anthony Gharib guy is doing, and why I read Paul daily and I’ve never come across Anthony Gharib until now.

    I’m glad that you (Paul) have no hard feelings towards ESPN. It does make me bristle every time I see a Uni related piece on ESPN these days.

    I understand the economic reasons for letting you go, but every time I read a story, I think your old column.. ESPN wants to cover the uni-verse? Just bring Paul back!!

    Well said I have those same feelings and thought those same thoughts. They had the best in the biz and in saving a few bucks, the quality is so much worse. I read ESPN’s uniform-related stuff out of a morbid curiosity and to get a little mad at the idea that UTEP’s illegible camopander is (fire emoji), or some such nonsense.

    Yep…for sure, stopped all essspn stuff Yars ago….stale sausage churning over and over…
    Love my Uni-Watching tho…..

    Funny that this was the ESPN coverage Paul decided to chime in on. I don’t know that I have seen a uni related article at ESPN since Paul left (aside from perhaps when a team announces a notable throwback).
    But yesterday I happened to see they had a story on the notable uniforms of the NFL week highlighting the Bengals white helmets. As a read through it all I could think was that whoever wrote it really doesn’t pay much attention to or know a lot about uniforms. And given the emphasis on the Bengals mono whites in the headline/article I got the sense whoever was writing it only pays attention to uniforms in the sense of “look what garnish mono look a random college has rolled out this week.”
    I can’t figure out if this sort of uni coverage by the mothership is just corporate synergy stuff with the swoosh or that the only uni coverage they think is worthy of mainstream attention is the garnish one-off looks that get rolled out.

    Gharib’s allergy to facts isn’t limited to uni details. In the article linked below, he asserts that Kevin Garnett was drafted 1st overall in 1995. Garnett was actually drafted 5th overall. link

    I’ll click on aesthetics articles in sports websites from time to time, but I usually assume that they’re just advertising for nike/adidas/ua/etc, and an extension of their insufferable hype videos. Always high praise for, as a terrible comedian once put it, “the newest thing ever!”

    In a way it’s surprising to hear a lack of specificity when it comes to color-names, because that seems to be a trusty tool of market-speak (“Battle Red,” etc). On the other hand, we live in a time when people are remarkably unwilling to look up a word they don’t recognize, or to find a synonym with a more precise meaning, despite the fact that it’s never been easier to do so.

    Thanks for reporting on this. I still check out ESPN’s content from time to time and I felt a light needed to be shone on how shoddy their uni reporting is.

    I’ve not read the content, and have no axe to grind either way except to say: both maroon and burgundy are subsets of red

    On the helmet colors, I would tend to argue that “gray” in the cited instances is imprecise, but not incorrect. What’s the difference between silver on these helmets and gray? Silver is gray, with sparkles. This is much closer to referring to “athletic gold” as “yellow” than to referring to shiny bars of gold metal as “yellow.”

    Now, if an NFL team wore mirror-reflective helmets of the style commonly referred to as “chrome,” then sure, “gray” would be clearly incorrect. That would be a properly silver helmet. But in the actual event, “gray” seems a correct plain-English description of the helmets in question. Like, if someone described seeing an impressive play in a highlight video by a player wearing a gray helmet with a big blue star, nobody who knows even a tiny bit about the NFL would have any uncertainty or doubt about what team the speaker was talking about. There is zero potential reasonable basis for confusion or ambiguity in describing the Cowboys helmet as “gray” rather than the industry-jargon “silver,” so as such “gray” is correct, even if it is less precise than one might prefer.

    As for the rest, woof. I feel a little badly for the journalist in question, and for all journalists of his generation. Anyone who has been an early-career journalist in times past knows the feeling of being saved from a boneheaded mistake by a good editor. Today’s newsrooms seem largely to have dispensed with the kind of editorial oversight and control that used to function both as a safety net for reporters and as quality control for readers. Young journalists seem often to be on their own, and that’s a terrible disservice to a publication’s journalists.

    Who can we forward Paul’s article to at ESPN so that they are keenly aware of the ineptitude of their employee? I’m guessing a lot of us have jobs that, were we to make so many egregious mistakes, we would politely be asked to exit, stage left.

    I thought Paul was very gracious towards Anthony, and I would guess that he has very limited editorial control, and will get this down, as long as he loves his job, which means he loves Uni-life…..
    Maybe one day they may even work together on a cool project…..
    I still wish the New York Knights were real…..

    The patriots do in fact have non-throwback white pants (link) but have not been worn for a while and not with the new updated template.

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