For some people, sports is a religion.
Others like to combine their love of both, which has led to the proliferation of team emblems on kipot, mostly worn by kids and teens and sold at many Judaica stores — in spite of the fact that unauthorized emblems violate copyright law.
Now, baseball and basketball fans can show their love for God and their favorite teams by wearing kipot licensed and sanctioned by Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
The Emblem Source, a family-run, Texas-based company that has been providing licensed logos for sports teams since 2004, began manufacturing and marketing the Pro-Kippah early last year. It is believed to be the first religious item licensed by professional sports, and sells at a suggested retail price of $23.95. That’s just a few dollars more than a counterfeit hand-painted suede yarmulke generally costs.
“We thought it would be interesting to get a license for this kipa,” said Brian Rutt, vice president of the Emblem Source, whose father, Larry, founded the business. “We knew that no one else who had a license to do this was taking advantage of it, and there was a lot of counterfeiting going on.”
Appealing as it does to athletic types, the Pro-Kippah — made from the same pro-mesh polyester as a sports jersey — comes with a patent-pending sewed-in clip inside to prevent it from falling in your face during a layup. No need for bobby pins.
Rutt says he’s waiting to see how the products are received before pursuing agreements with the National Football League and National Hockey League. Rather than market the product aggressively, the Emblem Source has pretty much, well, kept a lid on it.
“We haven’t really gone out there,” he said. “We wanted it to be a grass-roots effort.” In addition to Judaica stores, Rutt says the kipot are also available in stadium shops, as well as at some Modell’s Sports outlets and via the Emblem Source’s website.
The product comes with a distinctive hologram on its package to show that it is authorized. And Rutt, who wears a Pro-Kippah when he goes to his Conservative congregation near Dallas, says his company has been cracking down on counterfeiters. “We’ll find out who made it and report it to the MLB’s general counsel,” he warns.
Wearing a sports yarmulke would be taboo at a haredi or chasidic yeshiva but is acceptable and common at many Modern Orthodox yeshivas and synagogues.
Danny Levine, proprietor of the J. Levine Judaica store in Midtown, doesn’t yet carry the Pro-Kippah, but would like to. He’s received cease-and-desist letters from trademark enforcers for everyone from sports teams to Disney and the Ninja Turtles, after having been told by manufacturers that they had permission.
Levine was pleasantly surprised that Big Sports is interested in licensing kipot, given the relatively tiny market of kipa-wearing fans. “I’d love to be a big player in this,” he said.
According to Rutt, about 7,000 Pro-Kippahs have been produced and about 6,000 sold so far. “It’s definitely a niche market, that’s for sure,” he said.