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Symbols enter everyday life

Don't be surprised if the next crime alert you receive from the Rutgers University Police Department describes the suspect as sporting a crisp New York Yankees cap. The New York Times reported earlier this month that a significant number of criminals in the New York region have worn Yankees caps or some form of Yankee paraphernalia while committing crimes ranging from locker room thefts to violent crimes such as armed bank robberies and deadly shootings. As an avid New York Yankee fan, this news is appalling: Are we as Yankee fans simply brutal, violence-loving maniacs who loiter the streets waiting for the right target? Of course not, this would be a silly accusation to make considering that most Yankee fans are not criminals and sport their team's apparel to associate with their love of the game.

One theory of why so many people are wearing Yankee caps while committing crimes is that these criminals are identifying with the team's aura of money, power and success. This I will not deny — the Yankees have had a long-standing record of winning and have won more championships than any major sports team in American history. Another theory proposed has been associated to gangster-rappers wearing specific team caps.

A criminologist currently writing a book about the role of clothing in criminal cases has dubbed this theory the "Jay-Z Effect." Rapper Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z) has been wearing a Yankee cap in many of his videos, album covers and guest appearances on television for many years. In his popular single "Empire State of Mind," he raps "I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can." This can prove to be a legitimate theory, seemingly due to rappers' influence on urban populations. The article states that rappers have given the Yankees a form of street rep and an impression of coolness. Not surprisingly, many gang members have worn specific team hats that match with their gang colors. The two most gang-affiliated hats this year have been those of the Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Best-selling rapper Lil Wayne wears the hats of all three of the aforementioned sports teams — the Yankees, Reds and Dodgers — while 50 Cent primarily wears the Yankees and Chicago White Sox caps. It would be ridiculous to presume that all rappers that wear particular sports hats are affiliated with gangs, rather; they are most likely representing their hometown. This seems to be the case with rappers such as Jay-Z, who is from Brooklyn and Atlanta-born rapper T.I. who wears the Atlanta Braves hat.

The Jay-Z Effect seems to be targeting the urban demographics and rap audiences. But this theory does not take into account the dozens of other Yankee-cap wearing criminals that are not from urban regions or don't listen to rap music. Consider for example, Edward Dodson, who was born in Shelby, N.C.; he robbed 64 banks wearing sunglasses and an old Yankees cap. Dodson robbed more banks than any single person and was dubbed as the "Yankee Bandit."  

The obvious assumption might be that criminals in the New York area are wearing Yankees caps not due to the influence of the baseball team but to represent where they come from. After all, it's fair to say that most students attending our University would wear Rutgers' apparel rather than that of another school. This is not the case, there are many people in other states throughout the United States that are committing crimes while wearing New York Yankees paraphernalia, as mentioned in the Times article. Earlier this year, a man who robbed a Chase bank outside of a Chicago suburb was wearing a Yankees hat. So was a young man who assaulted an 81-year-old woman in her home in Seattle, Wash. Perhaps these were creative ploys to tarnish the powerful Yankees brand (probably not)! The fact that these criminals were wearing Yankee hats, rather than caps representing their home teams such as the Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs or White Sox, exemplifies that these criminals identify with the team rather than the city.

It comes as no surprise that many people — criminals and non-criminals alike — enjoy being a part of the winning team. With 27 Major League Baseball championship wins, the New York Yankees are one of the most associated teams around. Since they are so popular, we buy more of their apparel to associate ourselves with winners. The article states that the Yankees sell more merchandise than any other baseball team, with about a 25 percent market share of nationwide sales of merchandise licensed by the MLB. The most straightforward explanation to why so many criminals are wearing Yankees hats might be due to the fact that the team is so popular.

Regardless, the biggest criminal in the news right now wears a New York Mets (the losing New York baseball team) cap; he was the Mets' closer, Francisco Rodriguez. In my opinion, you should be good as long as you don't don a Boston Red Sox or New York Mets cap — you don't want to be associated with losers. Better yet, represent your Scarlet Knight pride and Hoo-Rah all the way!

Amit Jani is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies.

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