Uni Watch Design Contest: How Will Pro Sports Honor Black Lives Matter?

As all four major sports prepare to return, we asked readers to submit their best designs

July 7, 2020 5:12 am
lebron james i can't breathe
LeBron James wears an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt in 2014
Icon Sportswire/Getty

Slowly but surely, the sports world is lurching toward restarting its operations. Major League Baseball is set to resume around July 23, with the NBA and NHL expected to hit the court and the ice, respectively, about a week after that, and the NFL reportedly on track for its usual early-September kickoff.

When players return to action, it’s likely that many of them will be wearing some sort of patch or emblem to acknowledge the recent racial justice protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd. It’s not yet clear what those patches will look like, so we recently challenged you folks to come up with your own designs.

Here are the best and most interesting submissions we received. In each case, you can click on a design to see a larger version of it.

Best Coordinated Multi-League Approach: Tim Batzinger

tim batzinger mlb black lives matter design contest
Matt Stone/Getty/Tim Batzinger

Tim Batzinger began with a basic Black Lives Matter logotype and then adapted in in sport-specific ways for the various pro leagues. The home plate-shaped version shown above, for example, would be used for Major League Baseball.

The NFL gets a goalpost-themed version:

nfl tim batzinger blm design contest
New England Patriots/NFL/Matt Batzinger

The NBA version essentially turns the basic logotype into a backboard, with a net hanging below:

nba tim batzinger blm design contest
Andy Lyons/Getty/Tim Batzinger

The MLS edition looks like a team crest, complete with championship stars:

tim batzinger blm design contest mls
Kurtis Burke/New England Revolution/Tim Batzinger

The only one that feels a bit underwhelming is the NHL treatment, which features a hockey stick that feels a bit like an afterthought: 

tim batzinger blm design contest nhl
Jim Davis/Getty/Tim Batzinger

Why not try something puck- or goal-themed? All in all, though, a very good set of designs, and a nice way to tie the various sports and leagues together.

Best Varied Multi-League Approach: Garrett Beatty

uni watch blm design contes helmet stickers
(Garrett Beatty/Jamie Squire/Getty)
Getty Images

Garrett Beatty took an interesting approach: He looked back at how various leagues have done tributes for other causes and then adapted them for the current racial justice movement. Some NFL teams, for example, have previously worn black helmet decals with the initials of fallen military service members or cancer victims. Beatty proposes doing the same thing for Black victims of police brutality (shown above).

Similarly, after the death of Florida Marlins pitcher José Fernández, Marlins players all wore his name, rather than their own names, on the back of their jerseys. So Beatty’s idea is for MLB players to wear the names of police brutality victims:

uni watch design contest blm mlb logo beatty
(Garrett Beatty/Andy Witchger/Bring Me the News)

Because the NBA wears tank tops rather than sleeved jerseys (which is probably for the best), the black shoulder-strap memorial band is a uniform element found in no other sport. Beatty proposes a band that says, “BLACKLIVESMATTER”:

uni watch blm design contest nba beatty
(Garrett Beatty/Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Best MLB Logo: Brandon Parras

brandon parras uni watch blm design contest
Brandon Parras

Lots of sports were segregated in the early days, but only baseball’s apartheid system resulted in a distinct professional playing circuit — the Negro Leagues. Brandon Parras designed a patch featuring Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson, who is said to have hit more home runs that Babe Ruth and may have hit the longest homer in Yankee Stadium history (although, tragically, the spotty documentation of the Negro Leagues means we’ll never know for sure). Gibson died just a few months before Jackie Robinson made his big league debut. A potent symbol for baseball’s — and America’s — indefensible history of racial discrimination.

Best NHL Logo: Matt Bachovchin

uni watch blm design contest best nhl logo
Matt Bachovchin

The Venn diagram of hockey and Black history doesn’t have a whole lot of overlap, but Matt Bachovchin did a good job of connecting the sport’s distant and recent pasts by designing a patch that depicts the first Black NHL player (Boston Bruins winger Willie O’Ree, who made his NHL debut in 1958) and the first Black Hockey Hall of Famer (1980s and ’90s goaltending star Grant Fuhr).

Best NFL Logo If Not for the Pandemic: Dan Burdett

uni watch design contest best blm nfl logo
Dan Burdett

In any other year, this would be a great message. The multi-racial handshake is on point, the red and blue colors symbolize the bridging of America’s political divide, the black-backgrounded NFL logo sends the right message and the paintbrush-style lettering is sensational.

Just one problem: Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, athletes in most sports are currently being told to avoid handshakes, fist bumps and any other kind of unnecessary interpersonal contact. It’s not yet clear if that will also apply to football, since contact is inherent to how the game is played, but maybe an elbow bump would have sent a better message here.

While these fictitious ideas are great, it’s worth noting that teams and leagues in the real world are planning their own ways of acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are some ways you can expect the sports world’s visual culture may be transformed in the weeks and months to come:

  • In the NBA, which is scheduled to resume its season on July 30, players may get to wear social justice messages, instead of their surnames, on the back of their jerseys. In addition, “Black Lives Matter” will be painted on the hardwood (and also on WNBA courts).

  • In the NFL, where Colin Kaepernick was effectively blackballed out of the league for kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule says he may kneel alongside his players if they choose to do so, and Tennessee Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk says she supports the players’ right to kneel, signifying a quantum shift in attitude from the league’s leadership.

  • Similarly, in the National Women’s Soccer League — the first American team-based pro sports league to hit the field since the pandemic struck — players, staffers and refs have taken a knee during the anthem.

  • In NASCAR, driver Bubba Wallace has run a Black Lives Matter-themed car and the Confederate flag is now banned at NASCAR events.

And there’s probably a lot more where all of that came from — stay tuned.

Paul Lukas is also a big fan of graphic designer Conrad Burry’s “Together for Change” project, which features NBA uniforms with civil justice-themed designs. If you like this article, you’ll probably like Lukas’ Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for his mailing list so you won’t miss any of his future InsideHook columns. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.

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