“Blue Collar” as a Sports Marketing Gimmick

blue collarIn a just-released Episode 62 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, I reminisce with our founding producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling about the time we may have offended ESPN’s Paul Lukas, a historian of sports uniforms and founder of Uni-Watch.  Listen to our interview with Lukas in Episode 7.

Lukas has a great piece at The New Republic on the way sports teams use the label “blue-collar” as an “attitude, a lifestyle, a brand, a hashtag.”  Here is a taste:

Earlier this month, the New York Giants held a press conference to introduce their new head coach, Joe Judge. In between the usual football clichés about how the Giants will “play aggressive” and have a “physical attitude” under his leadership, Judge dipped his toe into the pool of class consciousness. “I want this team to reflect this area. That is blue-collar. It’s hard work,” he said. “We’re gonna come to work every day and grind it out the way they do in their jobs every day.” That same day, Mississippi State University announced that it had hired Mike Leach as its new head football coach. The school’s athletic director, John Cohen, issued a statement praising Leach for, among other things, his “blue-collar approach” to football.

These were just the latest examples of a phenomenon that the sports world shares with politics: a strong desire to be associated with the working class, often in ways that strain logic and credulity.

The sports world’s blue-collar roots are real enough. The Green Bay Packers got their name from a meatpacking company that originally sponsored the team. The Detroit Pistons got theirs because their first owner ran a piston foundry. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ logo is based on the “Steelmark” originally used by U.S. Steel. And before the days of multimillion-dollar contracts, pro athletes routinely worked regular jobs during the off-season—often in blue-collar trades—to make ends meet.

Those days are long gone, but that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to establish their working-class bona fides. While the trope isn’t new, it has become unavoidable in recent years, especially in the realm of team marketing and branding.

Read the rest here.

Indeed, this idea of playing sports in a “blue-collar” fashion has been around for a long time.  This phrase seems to be always associated with a team that makes up for its lack of talent with a heavy dose of grit, determination, and hard work.

My public high school lacrosse coach often described our team as “blue collar” as a way of motivating us whenever we played an expensive prep school.  Football teams that run the ball (“3 yards and a cloud of dust”) are often described as playing “old school” or “blue-collar” ball. (Are the 2020 San Fransisco 49ers a blue collar team?).  In basketball, athletes committed to playing defense, rebounding, and diving for loose balls in the open court are often called “blue collar.” Blue collar baseball players–like Pete Rose–are known for their “hustle” on the base-paths and hear-first dives.  Some have made the case that ice-hockey is a blue-collar sport.

I’ll close this post by linking to an article in The Guardian announcing that “every single US sports team is blue collar.”