When the Los Angeles Rams jogged onto the football field Sunday, they wore a new addition to their blue-and-gold uniforms--a non-regulation patch designed to invite a rules confrontation and, in the process, publicize a local anti-drug campaign.
Team officials were prepared with a second set of jerseys on the sidelines at Anaheim Stadium, in case game officials threatened to send players to the showers for apparently violating the National Football League’s strict dress code.
The only clashes, however, took place on the field with the Seattle Seahawks. Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates, who orchestrated the patch caper with team owner Georgia Frontiere, cheered the winning Rams from Frontiere’s box. Canvas signs bearing the slogan “Drug Use Is Life Abuse” were draped throughout the stadium but, in line with NFL policy, did not make it onto TV in the Los Angeles area because the game failed to sell out.
Officials of Gates’ Drug Use is Life Abuse Foundation had predicted a “win-win” situation--news coverage of the campaign with or without a nationally televised, game-stopping conflict. But it was clearly less of media coup than they had hoped.
“Sure, coverage is important” to the anti-drug campaign, Gates said. “It’s a shame about the blackout.”
Frontiere said Sunday that she “never even considered” seeking advance league approval for the round patches, which bore also bore Rams logos and were stitched to the left shoulder of each player’s jersey. “It goes without saying that the NFL is against drugs,” she said.
Neither the game officials nor Seahawks officials publicly objected. Jim Heffernan, NFL director of public relations, said a strict uniform policy was drafted by Commissioner Pete Rozell after Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon grabbed attention by wearing headbands promoting sports equipment manufacturers and medical fund-raising organizations during the 1985 playoffs and Super Bowl.
League regulations state: “Players are prohibited from wearing or displaying equipment, apparel or other items which carry commercial names, names of organizations other than the player’s club or personal messages of any type.”
“There has to be a dress code,” Heffernan said Friday from NFL headquarters in New York. “We don’t want our players to look like race car drivers,” who commonly wear a patchwork of ads on their coveralls.
‘Virtually Founded League’
League approval has been granted for a few patches--a “GSH” worn by the Bears as a memorial to the late team founder George S. Halas, and a similar patch added to Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys this year following the death of team owner Art Rooney.
League approval for those patches “was a snap of the fingers--these two gentlemen virtually founded the league,” Heffernan said.
But other slogans or logos are prohibited, he said. “Who is to say what is a good cause? Where do you stop?”
Heffernan could not be reached after Sunday’s game to comment on possible NFL action on the new Rams patch. Team spokesman John Oswald said the patches could become a permanent part of the Rams uniform.