By Steve Rushin
May 25, 2011

To its proud history of pitchouts, putouts, shootouts, shutouts, strikeouts, lockouts and walkouts, sports have added a tedious litany of red-outs, blue-outs and green-outs, so that I may very well blackout at the sight of another whiteout, in which Miami Heat fans all dress in bleached shirts for the team's home games.

As the alumnus of a Catholic K-through-8, I'm usually in favor of everybody dressing the same, in a uniform, which saves time and reduces brand-consciousness. But people dressing the same while assembling in the thousands to cheer has proven strangely disturbing -- less Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (my grade school) than Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army (Kim Jong-Il).

If I want to see 18,000 people in white shirts, I'll eat lunch at Deloitte & Touche. Likewise, the dueling blue-outs between Dallas and Oklahoma City fans have turned the Mavs-Thunder series into the bluest thing on TV since Deadwood.

More alarmingly, the whiteouts and blue-outs have given TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager a neutral backdrop for his comical blazers, which further stick out like a sore thumb -- like the sore, needle-ravaged thumb of a demented tailor --when modeled against a sea of white T-shirts.

There was a time when the broadcast crew wore uniforms (of network blazers), while the spectators dressed like clowns (in rainbow fright wigs). Today, we have the reverse, so that fans are models of sartorial sobriety, while broadcasters -- Sager, Don Cherry, Walt Frazier, Barry Melrose -- wear costumes that are less Brooks Brothers than Ringling Brothers.

Scholars disagree on who started the phenomenon, but whiteouts and red-outs have been going on -- have even been going head-to-head -- for a very long time now. When the Flames and Jets faced each other in the 1987 NHL Playoffs, Calgary fans formed a "C of Red," while Jets fans staged a "Winnipeg White Out."

GALLERY:Whiteouts, blue-outs, red-outs and more

How exactly whiteouts migrated from the Great White North to South Beach is difficult to say, but the first recent-vintage whiteout I remember was the Louisville-Georgetown basketball game in 2008, when Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, putting the solid in solidarity, wore his all-white suit to match the white-clad crowd in evident homage to fellow Kentucky icon Harlan Sanders.

And yet there's something strangely sinister about the whiteouts. Instead of calling to mind a choir of angels, the images -- of row upon row of people in white -- summon to my mind an army of dentists, or butchers, or other malign professions involving white coats (and butterfly nets).

In its defense, the whiteout is less upsetting than the orange-out, in which Syracuse basketball fans all dress alike. When 34,000 people arrive in orange, the monochrome Carrier Dome resembles another upstate institution: Attica.

For those of us who don't like deciding what to wear, the daily uniform is the only thing one might say in favor of a long stretch in federal prison. "The uniform makes for brotherhood," said Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, who introduced millions of kids to their first uniform. "When universally adopted it covers up all differences of class and country."

And this might be true, too, of the uniforms worn by NBA spectators -- uniformly stripped of class and country -- if some of them weren't sitting in $2,000 courtside seats while others were roosting beneath the roof beams, pigeon-style.

What bothers me most about these fan unis -- these whiteouts and blue-outs and red-outs -- is they're precisely what uniforms were designed to eradicate: The pressure to dress like everyone else. That is the paradox of the school uniform: You're required to dress like everyone else (in navy Tuffskins and powder-blue shirt) so you don't feel pressure to dress like everyone else (in $100 jeans and $200 sneakers).

Whiteouts and blue-outs, unlike school uniforms, are not compulsory. Fans can opt out, and you see a handful of these conscientious objectors at every game, scattered throughout the stands like paint dripped on a white drop cloth. But those fans most assuredly feel the unspoken wrath of their fellow spectators, a stigma unknown to uniformed first-graders.

So I would say make these things mandatory or ban them entirely. There are, literally, no gray areas. I'd make an exception, of course, for worthy charities. Pink-outs, for instance, raise money for breast cancer research while offering a soothing, Pepto-Bismol backdrop to televised ballgames. And I have no problem with fans who happen to dress identically, as was the case with every crowd in the first half of the last century, when all men seemed to wear black jackets and gray hats voluntarily. Nobody called it a Hat-Out, or left a fedora on your seat, instructing you to wear it.

Alas, a Heat-Mavericks final -- or a Heat-Thunder final -- will resemble the 1984 NBA Finals. Not the classic series between the Celtics and Lakers, but the 1984 finals, as imagined by George Orwell, whose Big Brother wanted "a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting -- three hundred million people all with the same face."

But that's going too far. I'm making too much of a simple series of identical T-shirts. They are not, in Orwell's coinage, thoughtcrimes. They're probably not even fashion crimes. But I would like to criminalize them all the same, as white-collar -- and blue-collar -- offenses.

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