Introducing “The Wrong Side of 30”

Many years ago, on a blog, far, far away, I contemplated my sports fandom as I turned 30: was it still OK for me to use baseball games as an excuse to drink to excess and (loudly) hate every single player on the Red Sox? Could I still spend an inordinate amount of money on team gear that serves no sartorial purpose outside of a stadium setting? Are 11 fantasy leagues too many?

This existential reflection resulted in eight simple rules for the 30 year-old sports fan. They were a fine set of guidelines, but as I grew older, I realized they weren’t enough. It’s obvious black-out drunk is a bad look for just about anyone, much less a gainfully employed 36 year-old with a law degree, but what about some of the grayer areas? When is it OK to leave a game early? What do I do if I’m ever on the Kiss Cam? 

“The Wrong Side of 30” is meant to chronicle those questions while ultimately helping us manage our fandom against life’s more pressing adult priorities. Or we’ll just complain about something trendy that really pisses us off.

Our first topic: jerseys.

October is a sports fan’s holiest month. Major League Baseball charges into playoff mode, conference play kicks off in college football and the NFL begins hitting its stride. Before we reach Halloween, pro basketball and hockey are added to the overcrowded mix. As such, this incredibly packed schedule provides infinite opportunities for sports fans to express their fandom. And what’s the most popular way for one to declare their allegiance? The ubiquitous sports jersey.

The jersey has completely infiltrated our pop culture beyond stadiums and sports bars — they have proliferated shopping malls, restaurants and offices all over the country (even at the Pentagon). At every outdoor music festival, the hoopster phenomenon continues unabated.

In Washington, DC, a town known for its transient residents, weekends bring out a veritable technicolor dream coat of tackle twill and polyester. Just this past Sunday, I picked out stars past (Michael Strahan), present (Bryce Harper), and never-was (Paul Posluszny), just to name a few.

During a Nats game against the Mets last month, I witnessed a litany of jerseys completely unrelated to the competition on the field: Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz and Matt Wieters.

At a Guns ‘N Roses concert in July there was a guy wearing a Donald Trump football jersey (number 45, natch) who locked his keys in his car (note: least surprising outcome ever).

At a graduation party for a newly-minted PhD in the early fall, someone showed up in a fake Sean Taylor (if you’re really going to wear a jersey in front of a bunch of really smart people and their families, at least opt for the authentic).

The NFL’s opening weekend inspired two young women in my neighborhood to show up for brunch wearing tight jeans, knee-high boots, full make-up and perfectly straightened hair. They could have been heading out to just about any bar or club in town, but the child-size Drew Brees and Tom Brady jerseys let me know they were at the bar of this trendy French restaurant solely to watch football.

On my walk out to the parking garage attached to my office Monday afternoon, I saw a man in a shirt and tie with a dingy Latrell Sprewell authentic slung across his back. I had no idea where he was going or why he needed the jersey, but it seemed important to him.

And despite each fan’s unique build, gender, race, religion, political affiliation, or whatever, they each shared one thing in common: they looked completely and utterly ridiculous.

Let me make something very clear: I love jerseys. I love looking at them, I love holding them, and I love oogling them in the Mitchell & Ness catalog. I even own a few of them (I bought a 2001 World Series Derek Jeter jersey late one night in my 20’s after contemplating a failed relationship and one too many gin and tonics). But the concept of a grown man or woman wearing one in public should be verboten.

Wearing a jersey is in essence sporting a replica of someone’s work uniform. Typically, that someone is way younger than the fan wearing it, and that’s creepy. For a child, the act of wearing a jersey represents admiration or aspiration. For a middle aged doctor, it represents an obsession with a 23 year-old they’ll likely never meet.

Jersey manufacturers (along with just about every other commercial entity) also recognize sports fans are a bunch of nostalgic suckers: we’ll buy anything that reminds us of a better, simpler time, when Bo Jackson ran over the Boz while wearing this sweet “vintage” Raiders jersey. But here’s the thing: you don’t need that $150 jersey to remind you of Bo’s prowess: the video (which is free) will suffice.

Let’s also not forget the symbolism behind the jersey itself: a jersey is earned through a heroic amount of hard work, dedication and talent, not cocktail intake. In high school wearing your jersey on game day was meant to denote you’d made the team. Jerseys belong to players, not the wannabes.

But don’t just take my word for it. The concept of adults wearing jerseys was first condemned in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13):

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Not religious? Fair enough. In 2003, at the height of the Mitchell & Ness jersey renaissance, Jay-Z rapped:

Fresh to death
Head to toe until the day i rest
And i don’t wear jerseys I’m thirty plus

I understand this position may trouble many of you: after all, you may have invested hundreds of dollars on these things, but it is time to move on. Hand them down to your niece or nephew. Donate them to a needy cause or a neighborhood kid who is learning to love sports. Sell them to drunken idiots on ebay (hi!) and use the money for Red Zone and bourbon. But whatever you do, please stop wearing them (unless you paint your face and wear these pants — then all is forgiven).

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