USC football should embrace messages on patches, but keep no jersey name tradition

Stephen Carr of USC football. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
Stephen Carr of USC football. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

An NCAA policy change could allow USC football players to support causes on their jerseys.

Change is coming to the ways college athletes, including USC football players, can express themselves on their jerseys.

On Thursday, the NCAA approved rules allowing football players to wear patches on their uniforms “for commemorative and memorial purposes, as well as to support social justice issues.”

The ruling will also allow players to voice support for causes or memorials with the text on the nameplates.

USC football players could wear patches in 2020, but nameplates should still stay blank.

From a USC perspective, the change should only apply in one area.

Patches make sense, though the NCAA does have some regulatory details on that front. Whatever patch is worn by players must be uniform across the team. While players can opt to wear or not wear the patch, it cannot be a unique individual message.

For example, a patch might show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It could also call attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It could alternately commemorate an anniversary or memorialize a recently passed alumnus.

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The option to use the nameplate on the back of the jersey to make a statement is more complex for USC.

The Trojans famously don’t have names on the back of their jerseys. They’re the only FBS program to have never done so.

The mood of the country, particularly among college athletes, is trending towards greater opportunities for expression in sports. The NBA was the first to move towards allowing players to use their jerseys to make statements. However, USC’s tradition of keeping nameplates blank should carry on.

The Trojans expressed their commitment to keeping unique records intact when they backed out of the UC Davis game, which would have been the first FCS game for the program. Notre Dame and UCLA are the only other FBS programs that have never played the lower sub-division.

Tradition does matter.

Players should feel free to stand up for the causes close to their hearts in whatever ways they feel is appropriate.

Penn State was the last of the no-nameplate programs to buck tradition in a bid to celebrate the players who stuck around through sanctions. They decided that gesture was worth it, leaving USC alone in never displaying names on their backs.

Ultimately it should be up to the players to decide. The option to make individual statements might outweigh tradition in their minds.

If so, that’s a reality that USC fans who value the unique traditions of the program will have to accept.

That being said, hopefully players are able to recognize the things that set the Trojans apart from the rest of college football.

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Moreover, the idea behind not wearing names on the back of jerseys is to highlight the importance of the team over the individual. Maintaining that mindset would require unified messaging for the team as a whole. A patch can do that.

The back of the USC jersey should stay blank, just as it has always been.

It’s not about putting tradition ahead of messages or messages ahead of tradition. It’s about letting both thrive side by side.

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