NFL players wear their hearts under their uniforms
When Odell Beckham Jr. returned in September for his first game with the Cleveland Browns since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament nearly a year ago, he had options for his warm-up gear.
The flamboyant receiver has been one of the most stylish players in the league for years. He wore a $190,000 Richard Mille watch to a game in 2019, and this season he’s donned custom cleats and gloves by Chrome Hearts, a luxury fashion line whose items can sell for thousands of dollars.
Knowing his pre-game warm-ups would likely require a few minutes of camera time, he chose his outfit carefully, eschewing high-profile branding for a white t-shirt that featured a collage of images of Jarvis Landry, l Beckham’s close friend and teammate at Louisiana State and Cleveland, who suffered a knee injury just prior to Beckham’s return.
Beckham’s shirt – which was indeed captured by the cameras – was designed by Bruce Thompson, a New Orleans native like Beckham, whose custom designs have become a popular way for star NFL players to self-identify. show love before dressing up in their uniforms.
Thompson, who is now the general manager of his own clothing brand, grew close to the Beckham family after meeting Beckham’s father, Odell Sr., when he returned to New Orleans for high school after spent three years in Texas because of Hurricane Katrina. He graduated from Miller-McCoy Academy and earned a scholarship to play catcher at Langston University, an NAIA program in Oklahoma.
Although Thompson declared for the 2017 NFL Draft, he was not selected. After a tryout with the New Orleans Saints didn’t result in a roster spot, he turned his attention to fashion, though he and Beckham still practice regularly in the offseasons.
“He couldn’t necessarily achieve his dream of being in the NFL, and that’s something he put a lot of hard work and dedication into,” Beckham said. “You see a guy who is a really great human being and working hard to find a way to make his way. I will always support that.
Thompson launched her Dreamathon clothing brand in January 2021, at first selling only socks emblazoned with her logo — a stick figure reaching up to a star — and motivational quotes. But that all changed after Beckham’s t-shirt request.
In the match following his return in September, Beckham again turned to Thompson, wearing a black version of the same Landry jersey. In late October, Vikings defensive back Cameron Dantzler, a native of Hammond, La., wanted to say hello to team captain Patrick Peterson, who was injured before an upcoming game. Dantzler reached out to Thompson to create a kind of sartorial recovery message, with images of Peterson in his Vikings and LSU uniforms pasted together. And Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase showed his love for his quarterback – and former LSU teammate – Joe Burrow by wearing one of Thompson’s creations under his jersey in the team’s first playoff game in January. .
It didn’t take long for players with no Louisiana connections to call Thompson – he said in an interview earlier this month that “hundreds” had contacted him after seeing his posts on social media or mentioned by other players. Thompson’s designs evoke a retro 1990s aesthetic – each features a collage of bold, colorful images and fonts – though each gamer’s request is tailored to their interests.
Some players ask Thompson for a Thursday jersey before a Sunday game. Others may look for one a month in advance, before meeting a particular opponent or celebrating a milestone or inspirational figure. Some solicit them for their off-pitch wardrobes or as gifts.
Thompson runs the business while continuing to train as a free agent player, funding production out of his own pocket.
“For me to just sit and try to explain how I do it, I really don’t know,” Thompson said, adding that he hasn’t had a full night’s sleep since October.
The NFL’s strict rules regarding in-game attire don’t leave much room for customization, aside from a few pre-selected social justice messages players can wear on the back of their helmet, or the few tweaks that can be made to gloves and crampons. But the rules governing what players wear during warm-ups are more relaxed, and Thompson’s t-shirts have become a staple for stars looking for a way to support their peers.
Two days after Beckham’s relationship with the Browns soured and the team released him Nov. 5, Dantzler and Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, another LSU alum, wore Dreamathon shirts scrawled with ” Free Odell” in a white chalk font.
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk of the San Francisco 49ers wore matching jerseys with pictures of Wes Welker, their position coach and former New England Patriots wide receiver, ahead of the Dec. 19 game. The following week, Samuel and at least four teammates sported t-shirts emblazoned with images of their head coach, Kyle Shanahan, from his playing days as a receiver in Texas.
Shortly after former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was found dead at his home in December, Thompson made a t-shirt for Los Angeles Rams linebacker Von Miller, who had been close friends with Thomas. in the eight seasons they played together on the Broncos. Miller, who wore the jersey before a January game, said he views Thompson’s work as a way for NFL players to publicly express their admiration for one another.
“We all know how long it took to get to those moments,” Miller said, referring to the work players put in to get to the pros. “You do all these things to play some time on Sunday, and we all respect that whether we win or lose.”
Thompson has begun to envision a future that capitalizes on his brand cache, and he hopes to collaborate with the NFL, other sports leagues, and designer brands in the future. Although he declined to say if players paid him for his gear, he is selling a limited amount of shirts online to the public for $60, as well as socks and accessories that are selling out fast enough that counterfeit versions of his shirts started appearing for sale on other sites.
“I’ve always had wild dreams,” Thompson said. “It just rubbed off, and that same passion I had for football, I just put it in there.”