This thing blew up. Talk about a train wreck.
We had people on the radio Thursday talking about race relations and gentrification after Sixers President Chris Heck did an interview with the website Uni Watch, in which he said the following in a discussion about the team’s new black jerseys:
“The whole blue collar thing is meant to be positive — I hear it all the time too. We actually don’t use the term “Philly,” (in lettering on jerseys) because we think it’s lazy and undersells the city, and sometimes I think “blue collar” does the same thing. We refer to it as “New Philadelphia.” Blue collar’s important for the city, but it’s not the only component. New Philadelphia is about the arts, it’s about culture, it’s about education, it’s about diversity. We like that narrative more than the blue collar hockey thing. Which isn’t a slight on it, but we think we’re more than blue collar.”
That resulted in everybody blowing a gasket, then the Flyers chirped back and Heck later apologized:
I’m sorry for my comments to UniWatch. Clearly, I missed the mark. My intention was to highlight the incredible things happening here & showcase the pride we have for Philadelphia. I love this city and truly believe we have the best fans in sports. No other place comes close.
— Chris Heck (@chrisheck76) November 12, 2020
It was not that big of a deal. People thought Heck was shitting all over the city in some haughty, Villanova type of way, but he straight up says in that quote that “Blue collar’s important for the city, but it’s not the only component.”
That is 100% true.
I wrote Thursday that Philadelphia sports fandom is defined by much more than a “blue collar” sector of the demographic. Sixers fans specifically are young and diverse and college-educated and had varied and wide-ranging upbringings. Combine that group with the working class, “blue collar” South Philadelphia or Mayfair type of fan and you’ve got a thriving Philadelphia sports totality that features people of all different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. The Bridesburg electrician might not have much in common with the Moorestown attorney, but they both love the Philadelphia Eagles just the same.
Heck could certainly have been more careful with his words, and maybe left the hockey cliche out of the interview, but he didn’t need to apologize for this.
The bigger story I think is the fact that Sixers fans really wanted the throwback 2001 Allen Iverson jerseys, but didn’t get them, and now feel aggrieved, as if their voices were not heard. That is a legitimate concern, and maybe the front office comes back around at some point and says, “well, the customer’s always right, and if they really want this we should give it to them.”
(Here’s Kyle’s take on the matter at hand) –
Kyle: Leave Chris the heck alone.
If you’ve ever talked to Chris, you know he exudes pride in the team and city – this is probably not the place to mention that he’s a fine Villanovan who also served as the VP of Marketing for Villanova Athletics and that his son is a two-time National Champion under the greatest coach in college basketball – and that this slightly embarrassing language misstep entirely misleads the public about his beliefs and is being completely blown out of proportion by faux macho, blue collar pandering dolts, like Howard Eskin, whose shtick is literally that he drives a Lexus and wears fur coats:
This is the most ridiculous take by an executive of a Philadelphia sports team. Obviously #Sixers President Chris Heck has no idea about the fiber of Philadelphia. The team finally make some moves to try and win and then this guy put his foot in his mouth down his throat. https://t.co/7TTPhLznpB
— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) November 12, 2020
Anyway, if you’ve ever talked to Heck, you’d know how much he sweats the details of the team’s history and the city itself. He’s the President, but you’d think he’s just the Chief Branding Officer, because that’s what he cares about at the root. He gave me a tour of the Sixers practice facility and spent more time talking about, if memory serves me correctly, the color of the piping on the banners hanging from the rafters and the Allen Iverson photo hanging by the workout room than he did anything even remotely important.
He will talk, in detail, admittedly sometimes as part of a publicity tour, about the hue of red and waistband stitching on new uniforms. Hell, he was the guy who brought out those (kind of hideous, if we’re being honest) Rocky-themed jerseys to celebrate the very blue collar thing he’s being accused of dismissing.
His personal taste aside, I disagree greatly with him and his destruction of the Iverson era Black and Gold. They reflect a celebrated part of Sixers history, and are as culturally relevant as anything Moses Malone or Dr. J ever wore. This isn’t like Confederate statues in the South; it’s OK to celebrate the ugly part of this kind of history. Never mind that those uniforms were the brainchild of a Philly-loving legend (and Villanova resident and proud Malvern Prep father) Pat Croce, who shared the same kind of passion Heck has for these items.
Side note: Croce is off being a pirate in Key West right now.
But the point is, Heck cares deeply about the cultural elements surrounding the Sixers and Philly as a whole. And he’s also right to point out that the lunch pail-carrying, blue collar stereotype that oozes through our sports fandom is a vestige of Vince Papale, Bobby Clarke, and Angelo Cataldi — sort of avatars for a fan ecosystem (fecosystem?) that looks much different these days. What’s more, this whole cluster F is proving Heck’s point, that Philly media old-timers are drawn to this sort of slight like flies to a bug light. It’s predictable, makes an annoying sound, and then I’m here to clean up all the mess.
And that’s all too bad, because Philly is becoming a bit of tech center. Hipsters dominate the local fan clubs. Main Line doctors, like Investor Jeff, are among the highest-value customers. Celebrities dot the courtside seats. This isn’t the 80s hair rock-playing Flyers crowd. The Sixers appeal to a wide audience, and Heck, as the fucking President and ostensible Brand Chief, is right to cater to all elements of the fan base. There’s probably not a local team president, currently, who cares more about these items than Heck. You think Andy MacPhail, Don Smolenski, and Valerie Camillo dedicate the amount of time – or any time – to these cultural elements the way Heck does? I promise you they don’t.
Leave Heck alone.