I want LSU players talking about the death of Alton Sterling to wear LSU gear when they do it. The school may not want them to, and may ask very nicely that they do not, citing their roles as “highly visible” ambassadors for the LSU community.
I want them to wear it for a few reasons. I want the players who want to speak out to wear it and get noticed for it because it shows that they are exceptional, that they are valued more, that they are assets, that they are something genuinely different in the eyes of the university than other students. That they have a value that is, by market and demonstrated income generated for the university, greater than that of the average student. That they are de facto employees, or at least should be. If speaking out is a problem for you, then they’re not just students. They’re employees, and the reaction by the university shows that.
I also want them to wear LSU gear when they do it—if they choose to, because no one can make you speak from conscience, and no one should—because people are visual learners. People don’t know a policy is bad until it hits them in the teeth. They don’t recognize themselves as part of a “we” until “I” is not enough, and they find themselves outnumbered and need of help. No one, myself and likely the person included, believes their house is on fire until the second the flames lick the back of their shirt.
Fandom is visual. That’s why there are different colors, different uniforms, a differentiation indicating that you, and the people on your team, are different from others outside that delineation. You are together, and theoretically united, even if you as fans only agree on one thing for 24 hours every Saturday in the fall.
That’s probably too generous to people, people who this week have made racial slurs against players in major league stadiums, people who in soccer have continually made hostile environments for minority players, people who with my very own ears I have heard in SEC stadiums say things about black players they would not say about strangers’ dogs. People have said those things, and then other people around them have said nothing.
The colors of a jersey and other colors in the frame are unevenly weighted. They’re always calculated at different, inequal values in the moment, and the colors in the frame not involving the logo or branding usually count for much more —and usually in all the worst possible ways.
LSU can ask them to not wear gear, or go well out of their way to say they’re speaking on their own, but it won’t matter. What LSU and any other university doesn’t realize is that even without the jersey, they’re wearing the jersey. The players already know this. It is something they live every day, something that’s a given in any interaction they have in Baton Rouge, and well beyond.
With or without a jersey, they’re very clear about what team they’re on. That’s not clear for everyone else involved. I need to know how far your definition of team goes, where it stops, and what other, more malign definitions of team pick up where that one leaves off.
P.S. In that same email, LSU Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar stated “Your safety is our biggest priority.” That statement is the last bolded point in the email; the note about branded gear appears well before it.