UNC Athletics Ends Sale of Star Jersey Numbers

In a response to player likeness concerns, North Carolina will no longer sell official uniforms with jersey numbers that match current standout players.

Last year, North Carolina football fans had two choices of jerseys to buy from Nike: No. 12 and No. 3. Those numbers, conveniently, matched the numbers of starting quarterback Marquise Williams and star receiver Ryan Switzer.

This year, the options are a little more curious: No. 89 (worn by sophomore Jared Worley), and No. 16 (which belongs to two players, redshirt freshman quarterback Manny Miles and redshirt freshman safety Stephen Albright).

According to North Carolina Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Kevin Best, the numbers were chosen for reasons other than the player wearing them: No. 16 because of the 2016 season and No. 89 because it was the year (1789) UNC was chartered.

“In this day and age of player likeness being a controversial subject,” Best said, “we decided it would be best to go this direction with the No. 1 and the No. 89 and the No. 16.”

Football isn’t the only sport at North Carolina affected by the change in philosophy. Best said the basketball team plans to offer the No. 1 and possibly one other number, likely a retired number -- like Tyler Hansbrough’s No. 50 -- changed on a season-by-season basis.

Jersey numbers and jersey sales have long been a point of contention with active college players with regard to lack of compensation. Former University of Michigan basketball player Chris Webber infamously recounted a story of seeing his jersey sold by vendors for $40 while he didn’t have money for lunch.

Lawyers for Ed O’Bannon in O'Bannon v. NCAA also cited jersey number -- along with height, weight, hair style, skin tone, and dominant hand -- as evidence O’Bannon’s likeness had been used in a college basketball video game without compensation.

The debate surrounding jersey and player likeness hasn’t gone unnoticed by North Carolina players either.

Last Christmas, Switzer retweeted 16 pictures from fans who had received the North Carolina No. 3 football jersey as a present. The final tweet from @herdcontrarian featured a picture of a young man wearing a No. 3 jersey with the name Switzer printed on the back by a third party: "@Switz03 oh no?! How did that jersey get a playmakers name on it? Thanks Santa! #sadlynoproceedstoryan"

Switzer still won’t get his proceeds but the decision does help protect the likeness of the amateur athletes who are not allowed to profit from their status. It also allows North Carolina to step away from a serious blurred line with regard to amateurism.



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