Musselman masks up in support of MiLB teams
Two weeks into Eric Musselman’s crowdsourced wardrobe overhaul, his boss noticed something was off. The head basketball coach of a Power Five school has an apparel agreement with Nike and there’s no shortage of Razorbacks gear in Fayetteville. Yet every time University of Arkansas director of athletics Hunter Yurachek walked
Two weeks into Eric Musselman’s crowdsourced wardrobe overhaul, his boss noticed something was off. The head basketball coach of a Power Five school has an apparel agreement with Nike and there’s no shortage of Razorbacks gear in Fayetteville. Yet every time University of Arkansas director of athletics Hunter Yurachek walked in on one of Musselman’s practices, the coach rocked the colors of a different team.
“How long is this going to last?” Yurachek asked.
“Well,” he replied, “I guess this is going to last as long as people keep sending me stuff.”
Musselman wasn’t sporting gear honoring fellow Southeastern Conference foes or even other collegiate programs. Rather, the ‘fits he flexed -- beginning last summer and well into the current hoops season -- shouted out teams all across the sports world. The big names got their due -- the Yankees, Patriots and Lakers of the world. So did smaller entities like the WNBA, MLS and NBA G-League teams. But it’s fair to argue no subset of clubs hopped on the “Muss Bus” with the same fervor as those with names like the Sod Poodles, Mud Hens and Mighty Mussels.
“The people that were the coolest,” Musselman said, “were the Minor League Baseball teams.”
Love the shirt and mask from the @MiLB Durham Bulls! The Bulls are reminding everyone to "Wash your Horns" another creative way to market their team. Thanks for the mask and gear @DurhamBulls! #MaskUp pic.twitter.com/XT1vB06kQO— Eric Musselman (@EricPMusselman) November 14, 2020
It started with a late July tweet from Seattle Mariners senior marketing manager Camden Finney offering to send Musselman a mask. He’s a lifelong baseball fan, so he accepted. Musselman wore the Mariners mask in practice four days later and tweeted out a few photos out a few photos. Fans saw his willingness to branch out beyond the Razorbacks and started tagging their favorite teams in his posts. It was a call to action for social media and marketing staffers everywhere. They answered.
Packages showed up at Musselman’s office daily. Some days he’d have double-digit arrivals. Musselman kept the tweets coming, and his staff estimates he’s repped at least 119 different teams -- including 16 Minor League teams -- in the months since. What began as safe practice and a strong example during the pandemic became an internet sensation.
“It was pretty wild how it took it on a life of its own,” Musselman said.
I have a new favorite @MiLB team. Love the Mighty Mussels mascot the Mussel Man! Thanks for the mask and gear @MightyMussels #MaskUp pic.twitter.com/FpI6ttUwCN— Eric Musselman (@EricPMusselman) October 18, 2020
The influx of gear came at such a steady pace that Musselman couldn’t keep up. He guesses at least eight NFL teams sent stuff for which he never found time. As someone who once coached in the lower levels of professional basketball, Musselman wanted to prioritize the Minor League teams who made a conscious decision to dig into their budgets to hook him up with their loot.
A guest room closet in the Musselman household provides a haven for the items already worn. They’ve become pajamas for the family, dance studio garb for Musselman’s daughter, Mariah, and argument fodder for his sons, Matthew and Michael. The former, a college student in San Diego, pleaded with dad to mail all Daytona Tortugas gear out west and not leave it at home for his brother, who is on the basketball staff at Arkansas.
The @MiLB Daytona Tortugas play in a stadium with some rich and important history. The Jack is where Jackie Robinson appeared in his first professional baseball game back in spring training of 1946. Thanks @daytonatortugas for the mask and gear! @Reds #StandWithTheJack #MaskUp pic.twitter.com/8ynmJNcag1— Eric Musselman (@EricPMusselman) November 22, 2020
As the boxes piled up and Musselman’s Twitter following grew, so did the meaning behind the masks. No longer was it simply, as Musselman said, “Hey, mask up, thanks.” Teams started including historic facts and charitable endeavours with their shipments. They asked Musselman to tack them onto his tweets.
“And then it turned into what makes this particular Minor League organization different?” Musselman said.
The thought exercise sparked a new routine that kicks off Arkansas film sessions. Before dissecting an opponent, Musselman leads a short presentation called “Voices and Choices.” One touched on the namesake of Daytona’s home stadium, Jackie Robinson Ballpark. Another detailed the Charleston RiverDogs’ Reading Around the Bases program, which promotes literacy in local schools. The goal was to provide examples of community service in hopes of inspiring his players to do the same.
“If you play beyond college,” Musselman said, “one of the things you gotta think about is how are you going to give back to your community.”
Got to rep the Charleston RiverDogs in practice this past week. The @RaysBaseball affiliate promotes literacy among local elementary school students through their Reading Around the Bases program. Thanks @ChasRiverDogs for the mask and shirt! #MaskUp #Here4HC pic.twitter.com/OylepP4lx5— Eric Musselman (@EricPMusselman) December 21, 2020
Of course, there were other motives for Musselman to keep up his social media presence. It keeps him connected with two of the most important constituents of college athletics -- boosters and recruits.
“It became a huge conversation piece with people,” Musselman said. “You can only imagine recruiting someone in Florida and you're wearing masks from four Florida Minor League Baseball teams and the conversations that can take place.”
That’s not to say Musselman’s efforts haven't been sincere. He has coached in places like the G League and Continental Basketball Association, where life was a lot like life down on the farm. He respects the grind, and he knows the ultimate goal of his team and those he supported with 16 masks are no different.
“I know that Minor League Baseball, minor league basketball, those guys all aspire to move up,” Musselman said. “If you're [Class A], how do I get to Triple-A? If you’re in Triple-A, how do I get to the parent club? The true parallel is they all have a dream. And they all have a dream to reach the top.”
Joe Bloss is a contributor for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.