Thin Blue Line on uniforms elicits charged emotions

Courtesy photo

April 19, 2023 — The Siuslaw Baseball Softball Association (SBSA), the sole provider of youth baseball and softball for the Florence/Mapleton area, released new uniforms earlier this month. The uniform featured a thin blue line on an American flag, a controversial design choice that led one parent, Teri Webb, to remove her child from the youth baseball team.

The team’s coach and President of the SBSA board, Rich DeSantis, was responsible for designing the Littlefoots uniforms this year. For DeSantis, the blue line simply represents support of law enforcement and nothing more.

“I don’t view it as a racist or political symbol,” he says.

Instead, he believes it honors the sacrifices of the police force, which includes DeSantis’ daughter who is in law enforcement.

“For me as a coach, that symbol means a lot for the team,” DeSantis explains.

Since at least the mid-twentieth century, the thin blue line constituted pro-police support without any political or racial implications attached. Traditionally, the symbol represented the color of police uniforms and the presence necessary to maintain order in society.

But in 2014, after two New York police officers were killed, the “Blue Lives Matter” flag emerged. Over the past decade, the flag has been widely used by pro-police supporters but at the same time, some white supremacists have co-opted the symbol, flying it while at the same time they are inciting riots and violence throughout the US.

With so much of the national conversation surrounding “Blue Lives Matter” as a direct response to the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement, it’s difficult to talk about one without acknowledging the other.

For the distraught mother who has attended BLM rallies with her children, its presence on her son’s uniform triggered strong emotions. She recalls the moment she realized the symbol was on her son’s jersey. After picking up her other child from an art show, Webb noticed her husband seemed upset. Upon discovering the reason, she immediately confronted DeSantis.

The conversation didn’t go well and she immediately took to Facebook to post a video giving her reaction to the design.  In the video, she said, “When I called the coach and asked him if he would put a BLM symbol on their uniforms, he laughed at me… My kids walk around [Florence] and get called names every single day, and then to have to deal with this....this is not right.”

During previous games and practices, Webb noticed other parents proudly displaying “Blue Lives Matter” flags on their trucks. Although she didn’t always feel comfortable with that, she would “never dream of saying anything to anyone about that.”

However, having the symbol on her son’s uniform was more than she could stand, leading her to pull her son from the team.

In response to whether it was difficult to break the news to her son, Webb expresses, “It was an easy conversation compared to [talking about] the color of his skin, kids at school making monkey noises when he walks by, or grown men driving by yelling out the N-word.”

Webb’s son told his mother that he wanted to take a permanent marker and color the flag to make it go away. “To me, that’s how innocent kids are…but either way things go, there’s going to be controversy on both sides. There’s no outcome that can make this all better,” she states.

In response to the community’s concerns, the SBSA convened an emergency board meeting Monday evening, April 10 to discuss the matter and vote on how to proceed. With thirteen sitting board members, nine voted to allow parents the option to cover the symbol with a patch of the American flag and four members voted to make it mandatory.

In a public statement released Thursday, April 13 by the SBSA, “all future uniform designs will be voted on/approved, and the board will have full visibility throughout the design and production steps to alleviate things of this nature in the future.”

Since the initial heated confrontation, DeSantis and Webb have sat down to numerous conversations. On their first meeting, DeSantis says, “These are human things. We both hugged over our children and cried together.”

He continues, “I’m just extremely concerned about her son. I deeply care about her feelings and had no idea anybody would feel that way. We have a great opportunity to talk about this.”

Over the past several weeks, DeSantis has done everything he can think to convince Webb to bring her son back to the team. He’s even offered to cover the symbols on his own sons’ uniforms in the face of supporting his daughter. Like last year, DeSantis wants to continue driving Webb’s son to away games.

However, Webb remains steadfast in her decision to withhold her son’s participation on the team despite the backlash she’s faced from the community.

“This could’ve been so much bigger in a positive way had she been willing to be reasonable. I wish the ending could’ve been different,” said a disappointed DeSantis.

But he feels this experience has opened his eyes. “It’s given me an opportunity to show support on something that I don’t have the same views on, on a human level.”

After having time to reflect on the situation, Webb acknowledges, “[My son] was never treated wrong on the baseball team, as far as I know…[but] if it’s this controversial in this tiny community, how would it be if [my son] went somewhere like Portland? There could be a bad outcome…I’m worried about all the kids honestly,” Webb says.

She is disheartened that others see this as punishing her son or pushing a bigger agenda when her true concern is for his safety, citing other city’s police departments like the Los Angeles Police Department who banned the use of this symbol as divisive earlier this year. Because of how quickly fights and arrests can happen in spaces where this symbol is used, the Vancouver Police Department followed suit shortly after.

In the end, the concerned mother sees no optimal outcome for this situation. “We’re not against the police. Nobody is…yet the symbol at the moment…white supremacists have [taken] over. What used to be something good is different now,” states Webb.

At this time, she has no plans to re-enroll her son on the team and feels it’s not her place to demand that other parents cover the symbol.

“I’m not going to be the one that says yes, you should take that [symbol] off your uniform…I don’t want that put on me,” Webb states.

At this time, the SBSA plans to provide all players and parents with iron-on American flag patches to give the option to cover the controversial symbol.