Once again I am thinking about uniforms, those extensions of the athletic skin.
As I have mentioned earlier, cattle would be shocked to find that we voluntarily brand our extended skins with the marks of a corporate entity, whether that entity is the sports franchise itself or some sponsor, such as a shoe company. When the franchise logo is continually redesigned for merchandising purposes, or sponsorship deals are renegotiated for strategic gain, what does this do to the athlete's identity? He becomes a transientity.
Every team is mandated to have a light-coloured and dark-coloured uniform, so that the good cowboy (white hat) versus bad cowboy (black hat) formula can be updated for the postmodern age. Thus, specific colours in themselves do not serve any semiurgic function, barring a few exceptions, such as Carolina blue.
The number etched on the extended skin recalls the tattooed serial numbers used to mark the concentration camp Jews — dehumanizing, but more precisely, re-identifying: you no longer possess your own individual identity, but are now a semi-anonymous entity in a larger group identity.
The name on the back of the uniform is the family name, again opposing individual identity. Perhaps an argument could be made that there are too many Jacks and Johns in sport to be able to print first names on jerseys, but a glance at pro sport rosters would suggest that there are certainly enough Jacksons and Johnsons (not to mention Smiths) to make a similar case. Several years ago the Detroit Pistons tried putting the first name of players on warmup jerseys, but this just came across as corny: we are comfortable referring to athletes as Michael or Kobe or LeBron — the verbalization of an image-sign — but at the same time we are uncomfortable with that same first name appearing on the extended skin.
(Interestingly, the ill-fated XFL offered athletes the opportunity to put whatever name they wanted on the back of their uniform — first name, family name, nickname — so long as it did not advertise another company. Anyone remember He Hate Me? This new means of identifying athletes was borne from the identities consumers assume when venturing to online spaces. Alas, combined with the other features of XFL, it proved to be too much of a threat to modern sport orthodoxy, and the league went under.)
When a star's uniform/number is retired, then, the extended skin of the heroic athlete is raised by franchise management to the rafters in much the same way that a safari hunter would mount the tanned hide of a trophy catch on the wall: he cost me a bundle, but I OWNED that man.
Along with it goes the star's identity, forever on display to the paying customers of the team.