The NFL’s Color Line


The Detroit Lions may be weak when it comes to diversity, but they aren’t lacking in irony. Mere weeks after the NFL fined Detroit GM Matt Millen for failing to interview any black coaching candidates, the Lions have decided black is beautiful—at least when it comes to uniforms.

The revised Lion unis, set to make their regular-season debut this Sunday, are largely the same as the old ones, except nearly every conceivable element is now accented in black, beginning with the team’s helmet logo (officially known as the Leapin’ Lion), which carries a black outline. Toss in the black face masks, black jersey collars, black “LIONS” chest insignia, black undersleeves, black belts, and black outlining on the jersey numbers, sleeve stripes, and pants piping, and you’ve basically got a black hole of bad design. Plus someone neglected to tell the Lions that the whole black uni trend peaked five years ago. What a huge surprise, coming from such a well-run football team!

The season’s other big changes are in Atlanta, where the Falcons have unveiled their first-ever logo revision. The new avian helmet symbol is based on the original one but is more stylized and is tilted at a more predatory angle. Uni Watch pleads indifference and files this one under “Could’ve been a lot worse.” The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for the team’s new pants, with their embarrassing reverse-tapered stripes, or the new jerseys, whose bizarre red-white-black vertical sleeve striping must be seen to be fully, um, appreciated.

The Lions and Falcons both deserve credit, however, for switching from white shoes to black, a look Uni Watch has long championed. The Panthers have done likewise, bringing the league’s total number of black-shod teams to eight—the highest count since 1975, and up from only one in 2000. Look for this trend to reach a tipping point within another year or two.

Jersey patches are another bright spot. This year’s well-designed crop finds the Jets celebrating their 40th anniversary, the Packers and Bears honoring their refurbished stadiums (but only during their home openers), and the Chargers and Redskins memorializing deceased executives.

Finally, in a quasi-uniform development, the Cleveland Browns finally have a logo. The appealingly old-school design—a football-shaped symbol with a block-type “B” in the center, very varsity jacket-esque—won’t actually appear on the team’s helmets or jerseys. But now at least Fox, CBS, and ESPN will have something to put on the screen besides an orange splotch when posting a Browns score during the halftime and postgame reports.