Why do most athletes wear uniforms?
The expected answer is to identify with a team. All the players on the NBA’s Miami Heat, for example, wear the same uniform at each game—allowing them to be easily identified by both fans and teammates.
However, closer inspection reveals that not all players wear the same outfit. Compare these two, for example:
On the left, LeBron James customizes his outfit with a compression sleeve and an extra-thick, custom-made headband. Meanwhile on the right, Chris Bosh wears no accessories with the standard Heat uniform.
Why does this matter? Because LeBron and the other NBA stars who wear accessories are distinguishing themselves from the standard “role player” uniform. They are intentionally sending a message to their fans; the message is something like: “I am different than everyone else on this court.” In essence, they are asking for fans to root for them individually, instead of just for their team.
(The accessories, by the way, cause no performance improvement. They are solely for style—and perhaps mental comfort.)
Meanwhile, I looked through over two hundred pictures of WNBA players and found not a single picture of a female basketball player wearing any accessory. All dressed exactly as their teammates did, with few embellishments. Such style of dress emphasizes the stereotype that the WNBA is more of a team sport than the NBA—that women can be lauded only for what they do as a group, instead of their individual accomplishments.
While there are real problems with the current uniform in the WNBA, I do wonder if encouraging the athletes—especially the superstars—to separate themselves from their peers stylistically might encourage fans to admire individual WNBA players more, with a possible benefit of increased viewership.
— Matthew Chen (blog post #2)