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The White Sox faded to black and silver at the end of the 1990 season. New colors and a new stadium helped boost in-park product sales from $200,000 in '89 to $4.5 million in '91, when the new gear was introduced. The black sea of hats that now floods Comiskey Park's bleachers suggests a convocation of Greek widows. "Black uniforms were the key to reenfranchising the disenfranchised Sox fans," says Rob Gallas, White Sox marketing director. "For years people hadn't been proud to wear our merchandise."
Sales of White Sox caps were so brisk that two summers ago New Era, the official milliner of baseball, ran out of stock. "New Era had to shut down normal operations for three weeks and just make White Sox caps," Gallas says. "And after the three weeks were up, they still had a backlog of 200,000 orders."
Of course, it didn't hurt that the Sox started winning game after game—and that they had enlisted the services of an ex-Raider named Bo. "I wonder if Bo chose us because of the colors," says Gallas.
Street gangs seem to have. Black team caps and jackets have spread like wildfire in the inner cities. "Black and silver are not just popular gang colors," Gallas protests. "They're a popular combination, period." Yet black-clad teams are being accused of contributing to gang violence. "It's not like we're arming people!" says Golic. "I mean, it takes a sick mind to watch a guy in a Raider cap and jacket getting fried in the electric chair on a show like America's Most Wanted and then say, 'Gee, his clothes were nice; I think I'll buy the same outfit.' "
The word on the streets of Inglewood, Calif., is Don't look black. A Raider or a King jacket may identify the wearer—wittingly or not—as a gang member. Two years ago, concern for student safety prompted Oak Street Elementary principal Yolanda Mendoza to bar all clothes with Raider and King logos from the school. "Is it helping?" she says. "Probably not very much. But I've got 1,200 kids toeing the mark. I know it sounds stupid, but by eliminating the symbols, we no longer have so many discipline problems. And I no longer worry about my kids getting jumped for their jackets after school."
Raider executive assistant Al LoCasale thinks that instead of playing clothes cop, schools should address the social and economic pressures that lead kids to see gangs as their only families in a bleak and uncaring world. "Banning Raider jackets is like putting a Band-Aid on a crack in the Hoover Dam," he says. "It's a simplistic shortcut. These are deep-seated problems that have nothing to do with sports. You're not going to solve them by taking a kid's hat or jacket and putting him in a strawberry patch T-shirt. Besides, of the 90,000 gang members in Los Angeles, there can't be one percent that wears Raider clothes."
Nevertheless, whatever the percentage is, it is particularly noticeable. A 19-year-old laborer and gang member was blown away by rival gang members last winter at a Culver City, Calif., gas station. Police say that the Raider jacket he was wearing may have marked him for death. "I was totally devastated," says Marie Marden, a friend of the slain youth. One week later Marden's young nephew was shot at while wearing his Dodger jacket; he was not a member of a gang. "I never would have believed team clothing could get you killed. I finally felt I had to do something." Marden and a friend formed a company called Peace In Time, which puts out an embroidered emblem that proclaims I'M A SPORTS FAN. GANGS AREN'T MY GAME. They have sold more than 10,000 iron-on patches to schools and youth programs throughout California.
Even LoCasale is disturbed by TV-news footage of kids in Raider gear getting busted. "All that does is reaffirm an image we're trying to dispel," he says. "By the same token, I remember once staring at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre when this guy stepped in front of me wearing a Raider sweatshirt. I tell you, our fans are everywhere."
So who's to blame? White marketers who cannily package fan loyalty with urban black rage? "What's sad," says Mendoza, a consummate Raider fan, "is that we have taken teams that we honor and respect and turned their emblems into something negative."
Edwards believes that the Black Rush reflects both the rising anarchy of neighborhoods and the volatile climate of the day. "Hard times generate hard responses in the population," he says. "People wear black if for no other reason than to perpetuate the illusion of coping and surviving. As circumstances in society begin to turn up economically and the tension between races lessens, you'll see movement away from this black imagery. Understand: We're living in some very, very dark times."