Johnnie Gray, who played Titan football in 1973-74 and was an undrafted rookie with the Green Bay Packers in 1975, today serves the sport he loves in an unusual way: He is one of a 32-man crew dedicated to inspecting National Football League uniforms.
Gray, a nine-year starter with the Packers, intercepted 22 passes in 124 games before retiring in 1983. These days you can find him standing on the Packers sidelines with a clipboard, inspecting jerseys, footwear and more items for unauthorized logos and other breaches of the league’s strict dress code.
Everything on game day has to be licensed by the NFL, Gray notes, including the Gatorade buckets, Wilson footballs, Reebok apparel and different brands of shoes. This is about maintaining a look, and it’s also about marketing, since companies pay lots of money to be associated with the NFL.
“Bellies showing are probably some of the more interesting violations,” Gray said, noting that some players want to show off their tattooed Bible verses. “The main thing as a uniform inspector is to make sure these guys aren’t sloppy; that they aren’t doing their own thing.”
He stresses that he is there for the players, educating them about the proper uniform so that the league doesn’t fine them. Fines can start as high as $5,000 for a sock pulled too high or too low.
The NFL began strictly enforcing its dress code in the mid-1990s, when officials decided they wanted a more professional appearance for their players. But when they first called Gray on the phone to invite him to be a uniform inspector, he thought it was a prank call.
“It took a couple of years for us to get it under control,” Gray said. “Now the league looks more professional. This is what we want for the NFL.”
In the years since he was a player, Gray said, “the game has gotten faster, the guys are bigger, and there’s a lot more marketing. But standing on the sidelines on game day, my enthusiasm, emotion and passion for the game are still there.”