Cheery Kool-Aid

I have discussed the sports uniform many times as a particular semiotic technology designed to discipline or homogenize athlete identity. The uniform also allows fans to easily identify members of "their" team on the field of play and cheer accordingly. But what happens when the fans themselves are given a uniform upon entry to the sports stadium — do they not succumb to the same homogenizing tendency?

Courtesy of Toronto Raptors/NBA

This homogenization occurred during Thursday night's Game 3 quarterfinal matchup between the Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic. For their first home date of the playoffs, Raptors' management handed out a "free" red t-shirt to every fan as part of its "Are you RED-Y?" campaign. But don't think that this is simply a question of a fan exercising agency in choosing whether or not to wear the shirt. As Dave Perkins of the Toronto Star notes, house-abetted peer pressure can be a powerful influence.

The customers were gifted upon entry with red T-shirts from the corporate partner that has its name on Flying Bolt Field. Pre-game, the scoreboard showed any customer who dared not wear the new gang colours. Boos would cascade until the miscreant drank the Kool-Aid and suited up.

With the athletes, there is a numerical inscription on the uniform that serves to identify and index each player — to the spectator, to the opponent, to the statistical archive, to the network. For the fans in their new uniforms, on the other hand, there is not even this meagre individualizing element. Save for the corporate logo emblazoned on each shirt, it is literally a kaleidoscope of skin colour, hue and tone dissolved down to a red matte for perceptual optics. A mass or multiplicity (a "sellout" of 20,023…!) perhaps, but not a multitude.


2 responses to Cheery Kool-Aid

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  1. Nikki Zouros says:

    It's not just Basketball. Homogenizing the fans also took place in the NHL playoffs this year with the fans in the crowd all "sporting" the same colour shirts. Watching on TV you can't tell who is supporting which team.
    I see two sides to this.
    1) It shows solidarity of the fans to the sport. The outcome of the game is a culmination of a lot of hard work by all the athletes involved. In essence, they all win because they all got there.
    2) The fans must be really ticked because now they can't show off which team they give their loyalty to.

  2. sportsbabel says:

    Thanks for spotting that Nikki….didn't catch too much NHL playoffs this year in preparation for my residency in Europe….but I don't mind too much. ;)