ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sales of 'Caucasians' shirts, depicting the Cleveland Indians' team mascot as a caricature of a white person, skyrocketed one day after ESPN's Bomani Jones wore one on a show, the shirt's creator said Friday.
Brian Kirby, who runs Shelf Life Clothing Co., told The Associated Press that more than 2,000 shirts have been sold since Jones sported one on Thursday while co-hosting the network's "Mike & Mike" show. At one point, Kirby said, traffic to his website was so heavy that the site crashed, and his internet host dropped him.
"I haven't slept since Thursday at 5:45 a.m.," Kirby said.
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The site, which offers the shirts for $22 each plus shipping and handling, has since been restored. The company typically sells around 7,000 shirts in a year, Kirby said.
In recent years, Native American activists have put more pressure on professional, college and high schools teams to drop mascot names and images that they see as disparaging toward American Indians.
Jones, who is black, reignited the debate Thursday while co-hosting the network's "Mike & Mike" show — simply by wearing the T-shirt with the word "Caucasians" in clear view while discussing NBA games and other general sports topics. His attire generated buzz on social media, with some praising Jones' decision to take the mascots debate to a wider audience. Others accused Jones of racism.
In a separate ESPN show Thursday, Jones said those who were offended by his shirt should also be offended by the Indians' Chief Wahoo logo. He also called the NFL's Washington Redskins team name a slur.
"If you're quiet about the Indians, but now you've got something to say about my shirt, then it's time for introspection," he told ESPN's Molly Qerim in a video posted online.
Many social justice activists have long been calling for the Cleveland Indians to change their logo, and their name. (Getty Images)
Cleveland Indians spokesman Curtis Danburg declined to comment. ESPN said in a statement, "As the show progressed, we felt Bomani had made his point and had openly discussed why he was wearing the shirt, and we wanted to keep the focus to the topics of the day."
Jones is a regular on ESPN Radio's "Highly Questionable" and host the podcast "The Evening Jones."
Kirby, whose company is based in Cleveland, said the shirt has been available since 2006 and parodies the Cleveland Indians logo. The word "Caucasians" replaces the word "Indians" and the Chief Wahoo character has lighter skin. A dollar sign stands in place of a feather.
"The irony is lost on some people," Kirby said. "It's not a shirt made in anger. It's a shirt made in a humorous way." Kirby said Jones is not a pitchman for the company and wore the shirt on his own.
It's not the first time the shirt has generated discussion.
A Tribe Called Red, a First Nation's Canadian electronic music group, drew criticism in 2014 after one of the deejays wore the Caucasians shirt before a music festival in Ottawa.
Shelf Life Clothing also sells a shirt mocking the Washington Redskins using the same colour and similar logo with the words "Your Team Name is Disparaging."
Indian Country Today writer Sheena Louise Roetman, who is Lakota and Creek, said the buzz generated by Jones has brought the debate over Native American mascots back into the mainstream.
"It was nice to see someone who is not Native American do this," said Roetman. "He has such huge platform."