What do baseball, gangs and business have in common? Well for a short while anyway they were all in the cap business. New Era the officially licensed manufacturer of the New York Yankees baseball caps came out with three different cap designs imitating gang colors and logos alongside the familiar interlocked NY of the baseball team. They featured a red and black bandanna design for the Bloods, blue and gray for the Crips and a gold crown for the Latin Kings.
Activists were outraged and said New Era, the Yankees and the MLB are deliberately marketing gang paraphernalia to gang members and wannabes.
“It is a scandal with the work that we do to walk around the corner in our community and find that Corporate America is profiting on the blood of our kids.” said Stan Koehler, director of Peace on the Street.
“To have this company actually come out here and produce gang paraphernalia that’s going to hurt kids, they don’t realize that if you wear the wrong cap on the wrong block you will get opened up, you will get slashed or jumped, so you can die…..they need to be aware that the wrong color combination in our community can be fatal.”
“Bandannas represent gang flags,” said Brian Martinez, an NYPD detective involved with Peace on the Street. “New Era is making it really convenient for gang members, because now your flag is part of your hat.”
At Tom, Dick and Harry’s on East 106th Street, manager Isaiah Hill pulled the gang-themed caps from the shelves.
“These guys are right,” said Hill. “This is a very dangerous fad that could cause serious violence.”
Johnny Rivera, who led the group of protesters, first discovered the caps while shopping with his son for back-to-school gear last week. He offered to buy his son a black New Era baseball cap with a gold Yankee logo and embroidered crown. The 11-year-old explained to his then-clueless father that the hat was “a gang thing,” and wearing it would put him in danger. “This is not something I was aware of as a 45-year old father buying a hat for my 11-year old kid,” he said.
Both MLB and the Yankees insisted they were unaware of the symbolism in the cap designs, with the New York team noting they were never given a chance to review the new hats until they were already for sale.
The team was “completely unaware that caps with gang-related logos and colors had been manufactured with the New York Yankees logo on them,” said a Yankees statement. “The New York Yankees oppose any garment that may be associated with gangs or gang-related activity.”
New Era ordered the removal of the caps from store shelves after complaints from baseball officials and the public outcry:
“It has been brought to our attention that some combinations of icons and colors on a select number of our caps could be too closely perceived to be in association with gangs,” said Christopher H. Koch, CEO of New Era Cap. “In response, we, along with Major League Baseball, have pulled those caps.”
New Era said it would increase its efforts to ensure it had a better working knowledge of gang symbols, names and locations. All this sounds very good, a company reacting positively to criticism about its business practices, but this is not the first time New Era has been in trouble for manufacturing gang-related caps. Just last June the company recalled 100 of its hats from a Cleveland store after it was alerted it was designing caps with logos representing local gangs.
The logos on the hats represented gangs from “Da Valley” (Garden Valley housing project), “10-5,” for the 105th Street gang called Waste-5 and “HVD” for the street gang on Harvard Avenue. In a very familiar sounding tone the company issued the following statement:
“We had no knowledge the logo on our cap was a gang logo,” said Gerry Matos, senior vice president of marketing for New Era Cap Co. “Once we were alerted, we immediately contacted the retailer and had the caps recalled.”
Mato revealed that the company plans to take steps to ensure that it never happens again.
“We plan to work with police gang suppression units to get the names of gangs across the U.S.,” Mato said. ” We also have told our sales force to ask ‘why’ if a logo is obscure.”
The New Era company, which has produced hats for Major League Baseball since the 1930s, seems to be in tune with the gangs. First in Cleveland and now in New York, each time withdrawing the merchandise after public protest and promising that it will never happen again. It makes you wonder if New Era is consciously or unconsciously promoting or profiting from the proliferation of gangs in the society. It would be interesting to find out who in the company is responsible for the design and marketing of New Era’s merchandise. Have the gangs infiltrated the company or is this just an unfortunate coincidence?