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The tale behind 'authentic' look of Sox 'Southside' jerseys

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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When you look at the Chicago White Sox new jerseys, you see "Southside."

It's what's different about this look, these alternate threads the team unveiled last Friday. They don't say "Chicago." They say "Southside."

And when you look at them, the White Sox would like you to see the South Side, too.

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Your level of frustration that the wildly popular new uniforms say "Southside" instead of "South Side" entirely depends on whether your job requires a constant use of grammar. For example, it's been a conversation point with my copy editors, and it hasn't come up at all when talking with my friends.

But grammatical preferences aside, these uniforms were whipped up with a purpose: to be very White Sox and to be very South Side.

"We wanted to lean in to who we are and make sure that it fit with our brand and what we represent to our fans and what we represent to the city," White Sox vice president Brooks Boyer told NBC Sports Chicago last week. "This all was put together to represent the South Side.

"There is a South Side mentality, it's a thing, it's a culture. ... That (uniform) represents the people that live in Beverly or Hyde Park or anywhere on the South Side. People that are South Siders, they get it. And people in Chicago certainly understand where it's coming from.

 

"When you look at the gothic script, when you see the launch video, I think that speaks to who we are. ... It's authenticity. That's who we are, that's what we represent."

My initial reaction to seeing the "City Connect" uniforms — an umbrella branding by Nike and Major League Baseball — is that they didn't look like the ones the Boston Red Sox wore earlier this season, or the ones the Miami Marlins unveiled in recent weeks. Those were specific.

The Red Sox uniforms were panned for being yellow and blue, and there were probably many wondering why the Marlins' ones were red and white. But the specific nods to the iconography of the Boston Marathon and the Havana Sugar Kings, respectively, I found very cool, very specific to the cities and their heritage.

To me, the White Sox uniforms seemed to be themed to ... the White Sox?

But there's something special about the jersey saying "Southside" instead of "Chicago," and as any Chicagoan on any side of town will rush to tell you, there are few things more specific to Chicago culture than the city's teams. There are few things more specific to the South Side than the White Sox. And in that sense, in being less narrowly focused, the design does speak to White Sox fans a great deal, as evidenced by the jerseys selling out in just a few hours.

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Being themed to the White Sox, and by extension the South Side, means something different these days, though.

As the front office rebuilt the roster over the last few years, the marketing side was listening to the words of one of the centerpieces of that rebuild and have built the team's entire public-facing identity around them.

Tim Anderson flipped his bat and stood in front of microphones and said that baseball is boring, that it needs to change. He's taken on the mantle as a crusader for a more fun-loving brand of baseball, one that features big personalities and big celebrations and big laughs and big smiles in place of the stoic, unwritten-rule-following brand that's defined the game for its century and a half of existence.

The White Sox would like to join him in changing the game, and they've slapped that slogan on everything they can find. It was the driving force behind the design of these uniforms, too.

"When we went out to Oregon (to meet with Nike's designers), they pitched us their concepts for the White Sox. And we said to them, 'We'd like to tell you about this "Change the Game" thing that we've got brewing up that we like and where we think a uniform would fit in,'" Boyer said. "They took the concept, came back to us in a couple of weeks, and we kind of all felt like we had a hit.

 

"This is more a lean-in of who we are and what our culture's all about. I think you're seeing a lot of teams with big, bold, bright colors, where we're really staying true to who we are. And it is, it's a little more edgy, it's a little harder, and we're OK with that.

"The first person to see a 'Southside' uniform was Tim Anderson."

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Anderson's bat-flipping ways and his eschewing of baseball's ancient etiquette get all the ink.

But in the same interview where he told Sports Illustrated that he wanted to break the game's "have-fun barrier," he said he's about "bringing Black culture to baseball and doing it in a different way." The same day he said baseball's boring, he talked about making sure there's something for young kids to get excited about.

And these uniforms, an extension of so many of the things Anderson's been talking about for the last several years, might just do what nightly highlights can't.

"It’s relatable," Anderson said last week. "Just using that term definitely makes it a lot more realistic to people who actually grew up on the South Side and have been Sox fans their whole life. I think it’s definitely real relatable and think it’s really cool.

"I think these uniforms definitely describe the city, and it don’t get any more authentic and real and relatable as that."

They might just appeal to a type of fan different from the typical baseball follower. They might catch the eye and catch the attention and adorn the body of someone who might have had no other reason to turn on a baseball game. There's a reason that when describing the uniforms, the White Sox cited the team's presence in hip-hop culture and highlighted Anderson, whose on-field persona has made him the face of the "let the kids play" movement.

Fans who don't see baseball as a big part of the culture of their race, community or age group might see a representation of themselves — or merely something they enjoy — in these new jerseys, in these new hats and in these new White Sox superstars modeling them.

And that's a big plus for the team and for the game as it tries to figure out ways to appeal to every kind of fan.

"We know this isn't for everybody," Boyer said. "We know this is too hard and too edgy for an older demo. This isn't for everybody. But you know, we're not for everybody. The way we play the game may not be for everybody. This represents us."

That brings it right back to authenticity.

The White Sox have made it to contender status by being themselves on and off the field. The White Sox are running with that idea. And now they have some new threads that represent that attitude to a "T."

 

So be yourself. And be "Southside."

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