The All-Star Game is slated to take place on Jan. 25, and by now you've probably seen the jerseys the players will be wearing, which are pretty brutal. The full uniforms, including the pants and socks, aren't much better.
This isn't such a surprise. As leagues attempt to outdo each other and increasingly hew to the self-defeating notion that there's no such thing as bad publicity, all-star uniforms in many sports have become visual train wrecks (although it's worth noting that this season's NBA All-Star unis, which will be worn next month, are surprisingly restrained).
But these new NHL All-Star designs aren't just awful -- they're awful in a very specific way, thanks to the use of all that really loud, neon-green trim, which sticks out like, well, like really loud, neon-green trim. Variations on this color -- sometimes varying more toward yellow, sometimes more toward green and often somewhere in between -- have been popping up throughout the uni-verse and the sports apparel world with increasing frequency in recent years. Nike calls its version of the color "Volt"; adidas calls its version "Electricity"; the Seattle Seahawks call their version "Action Green"; and the NHL is referring to the tone on the All-Star uniforms as -- drumroll, please -- "Elite Green."
By any name, it's an odd color to include in the All-Star uniforms. Aside from being visually jarring, the color doesn't appear at all in the game's logo. You can tell the players don't think much of it either, even when they're trying to be diplomatic about it. The whole thing is almost too easy to ridicule:
So if the neon color is such a stinker, why did the NHL use it? This article on the league's website lists two primary (and contradictory) reasons:
1. You've seen it before. "The 'elite green' color," says the article, "while new to fans as a primary color, actually is in the necklines of all authentic NHL jerseys." True enough, although it's actually in the inner neckline. Which means nobody can see it when the jersey is being worn. Which is probably for the best.
2. You've never seen it before. The article quotes Reebok designer Dominic Fillion thusly: "No other team owns this color, so that was unique. ... We wanted something that fans hadn't seen on an NHL uniform before." Fair enough, but here's the thing: If your league has been around for nearly a century and there's a color that no team has ever used, maybe there's, you know, a good reason for that.
But there's probably a simpler explanation for the neon: It's trendy. "If you're selling to kids and teens, neon is where it's at right now," says Todd Radom, a designer and sports historian who's done work for a wide variety of teams and leagues. "Like any trend, it's going to have a shelf life. It might stick around for a while, but if we look back with the perspective of, say, 15 years, I think it's going to look very dated."
Actually, while neon or highlighter tones are particularly popular at the moment, they've been around for a while. Here's a selective timeline of their appearances in the uni-verse:
1991: The Orlando Thunder, a team in the World League of American Football (later known as NFL Europe), debuts with a neon-green color scheme. The team folds after two seasons, which is just long enough for it become infamous for wearing one of the worst uniforms in sports history.
1999: The Oregon football team gets its first radical makeover from Nike. The new design features lots of highlighter-yellow accents.
2000: The Columbus Blue Jackets make their NHL debut. Their uniforms and logo feature an accent color described by some observers (OK, this observer) as "neon mucus." The color is eventually excised from the team's visual program in 2007.
2003: The Oregon football team goes full-highlighter.
2007: The NFL decrees that quarterbacks' radio-equipped helmets will be marked with a neon-green dot on the back. League execs later decide to add the NFL logo to the dot, just in case fans didn't know which league they were watching.
2009: The Seattle Seahawks, perhaps responding to a dare, take the field wearing neon-green alternate jerseys for a game against the Chicago Bears. The uniform becomes an instant anti-classic and is promptly dubbed one of the worst in NFL history.
2011: The Oregon football team plays for the BCS national championship against Auburn and wears lots of fluorescent accessories for the occasion, including shoes and socks that make it look like the team is walking through radioactive nuclear waste.
2012: The Seahawks get a makeover from Nike, which ups the ante on the team's neon-green trim and accessories.
And there's more where that came from. Nike has just announced that it will be outfitting several of its pro tennis players in neon tones for the Australian Open, which begins next week.
Meanwhile, there's another whole class of people at sporting events who are typically wearing neon: the vendors. It makes sense that they'd be neon-clad, because it makes them easier to spot in the crowd. But the next time the NHL or Nike or adidas wants to add a neon uniform to the mix, maybe they should ask themselves if they really want their athletes dressed up like the beer guy.
Paul Lukas does not own any articles of neon-tinted clothing, and plans on keeping it that way. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.