Buy The T-Shirt, Not The Jersey


BARCELONA — Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona was filled to its considerable brim Sunday night, and with only some exceptions (some cops for crowd control, some dazed tourists waiting to be spirited off on a tour of one sort or another, TV crews and journalists going to where the show is because that’s news too, even the odd Iberian ham merchant staying open late on the Catalunyan Sabbath because money is still money) the people filling it were largely young women. They had come to celebrate the FC Barcelona Femeni’s Champions League title victory over Lyon and the rare feat of a continental quadruple, having already won the Spanish Supercopa, La Liga, and the Copa De La Reina.

What struck me wasn’t that Barca had won all that additional lobby decor—it’s been doing that for years—but that most of the women in the crowd were wearing Barca jerseys. Granted, this makes sense because they were celebrating a genuine rarity with their friends, compatriots and like-minded strangers on a special occasion and is therefore not a violation of the First Law of Jersey Wearing, which is otherwise this: If you’re not a player or over 25, don’t.

This is a law almost never observed because a law that isn’t enforced is only a suggestion, and in this case there’s too much cash in play and inbred fashion beliefs among our sportier proletariats to change it. The jersey as a staple of fashion life has become too mighty for the law to be even remembered, let alone honored. It’s just, to quote Comrade-For-A-Week Jensen, an irrational attachment.

Now before you turn all purple and bloodshot and start demanding satisfaction, understand that I’m not here to clean your closet. Fashion may be fascism (and to be perfectly clear on this point, it most certainly is), but it is mostly your fascism, chosen your way with only a modicum of peer pressure and marketing strong-arming. Nobody can force you not to wear a jersey once you become an adult, and we already have our own busybody-engorged pathologies.

But I can point out an affection for jersey wearing is based on three pillars that create an unshakable truth, to wit:

1. You’re not on the team, and won’t be called into the game in an emergency.

2. You’re not a child and do not have parents or loved ones invested in what you wear.

3. You look like a bunch of other people who in any other circumstance you would be likely to fight in a bar.

You know these things so I don’t really have to expound on them too greatly, but a brief summary will help. Your role in this process is restricted to being part of the vast herd of wallets that helps teams make their monthly millions, and your expressions of love and loyalty are really not much more than that. More to the point, your stadium cheers and their negligible value to the game are not made louder or more piquant because you’re dressed like Luka Doncic, Lavonte David or Leon Draisaitl. You’re an insurance adjuster from Traverse City, and if you wanted to pretend you were part of the team you’d wear your own work clothes and pass yourself off as an accounts executive.

You are, in short, part of the hive mind of your favorite pastime, which everyone has and is entitled to, but only in sports is it considered normal to wear the clothes of the people you watch. That is, unless you’re one of the lunatics who dressed up like Barbie to see Barbie last year, or still have a Luke Skywalker outfit from the good old days. Those people are clear outliers in general, and to be avoided in specific. And even they only dress in costume for special occasions. Jerseys are everyday wear for everyone who lives the fantasy that they coulda been a player if they weren’t, well, a player.

It should be noted that no actual player ever wears a jersey away from the field because they don’t see it as fashion but as their work duds, like the orange vest of a road crew. So by wearing a jersey you are actually doing the exact opposite of the athletes you so admire with an eye to cursing them when they don’t win by enough things to get your bet paid off. That’s part of the irrationality of the attachment too. We will dress like you and hate you simultaneously.

And as far as the child’s exception, I can only remind you of your own child-rearing days when you had to bribe your kids not to go naked to kindergarten by telling the little miscreant that you granted special permission for them to dress up as Dora The Explorer just to crowbar them out of the car. Kids get to wear anything their parents are gullible enough to buy for them because every day is a new blood-curdling negotiation in the exciting world of parenting.

But let’s leave your wobbly relationship to your children aside for the moment, and remind you of the real reason why the jersey is a purely irrational attachment to things you don’t actually have or represent: the cost. When sports stopped being the realm of men who wore suits and fedoras and women who wore going out dresses and heels to games and became this festival of impersonation, the people who put on the games first saw the market in selling the shmata and then charging through the nostrils and eyelids for them. All those people in Aitana and Rolfo and Paralluelo jerseys in Plaça Sant Jaume Sunday night paid 65 euros and up for them, and they didn’t even have the added fun of going home with the purchase and realizing they’d been Fanatics’d.

Now that’s irrational.

But it’s also the attachment. Those women are part of the new vanguard of sports fans that are already being targeted as future revenue streams. They are the ones who are buying San Francisco Valkyries shirts even though the Valkyries have no actual players whose identities are yet available to be stolen.

In a more sensibly run society, all this would be a symptom of incipient derangement, and a reason to call the real estate agent to start nailing up signs. But we are cool with all of it because years of precedent have made the whole thing part of who and what we are. Well, all of who and what you jersey-wearing people are. Personally, I limit sporting fashion to only defunct teams who can no longer hurt me in that special way. Today’s ensemble includes a Winnipeg Jets T-shirt, and not the current Winnipeg Jets who used to be the Atlanta Thrashers but the ones who predated those Jets, later became the Arizona Coyotes and are now the Utah Fightin’ WTFs. Crucially, it is a T-shirt, not a jersey, so there are no illusions to greatness that never was and never could be. It’s irrational and it is an attachment but it is an attachment to a graveyard, which is weirder in many ways, but it is at least easier on the ATM.

Plaça Sant Jaume is back to its more sedate state now, and only in part because there’s a taxi strike in Barcelona and the town is significantly more pedestrian in nature. The Barca Femeni season is now four days gone and just dustbin fodder while their fans try to sort out their opinions of next season, starting with the successor to head coach Jonatan Giráldez, who left to become the coach of the NWSL Washington Spirit. It’s hard to win more than everything, but that’s the new bar to get the sea of jersey-wearing fans back to the square that made Sunday an irrational attachment worth remembering for them all.

And speaking of which: you can pick up a Spirit jersey here for only $94.99. Irrational or no, the hustle never ends.

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