In college I had a roommate named Ryan Patterson who was really funny. This isn’t related at all to what I’m about to say, but he was prematurely greying, he smoked a lot of Camel Lights, and he would laugh like a hyena after 90 percent of the things that you said to him. Also, he liked to go to bars, drink a lot of whiskey and spend all night talking to the bartender. Male bartender, female bartender, it didn’t matter. He wasn’t hitting on them, he was just keeping them company.

Anyway, there was something Patterson would say anytime someone would start bragging. Like, say another one of our roommates, Ryan Murdock (lot of Ryans born in the late ’70s), announced that he would be making $12 per hour over the summer working at the bookstore. Patterson would say, “Murdock, you’re so awesome. I want your life.” He was being sarcastic, of course, which is why I loved it.

That’s the line I think about when I think about guys wearing jerseys with other guys’ names on their backs. They’re saying to that player, “You’re so awesome. I want your life.” Only they’re not being sarcastic. Which—to me—makes it kind of sad and pathetic. I feel like they should be a little embarrassed to be doing that. Or at least I am whenever I do it. I feel emasculated, a bit.

Think about it: You’re taking the work outfit of a man you admire and wearing it while you watch him work. Which seems like an excessive expression of admiration. You would never wear your doctor’s lab coat. You would never wear your postal worker’s postal shorts.

Did any of that make sense? Here’s what I’m trying to say: like executing a selfie, there should be a fair amount of shame that goes along with wearing another man’s jersey. Because you’re sort of telling the world that you fantasize about being that athlete. Instead, you should probably be spending more time working on your own life. So that maybe that athlete might admire you. That should be your fantasy, anyway.

But however you feel about the matter, we all have to agree it’s weird, right? Come on, it’s weird. When you think about it, what you’re literally doing is taking the work outfit of a man you admire and wearing this work outfit while you watch him work. Which seems like an excessive expression of admiration. You would never wear your doctor’s lab coat. You would never wear your postal worker’s postal shorts. Even though those two people are arguably just as admirable—if not more so—than that professional athlete. I don’t know, I just think it’s strange.

But even I admit there are times when it’s okay to wear another man’s jersey. Here are seven such times.

spike-lee-do-the-right-thing Mookie was definitely doing the right thing by wearing Jackie’s jersey.

If you’re still a boy. This is an obvious one. It’s okay for a kid to wear an athlete’s jersey because they’re saying that this guy is an idol and they want to be him when they grow up. The problem with adult males wearing these jerseys is they’re already grown up.

If you’re shooting a hip-hop video. Rap videos and jerseys just seem to go together. No problems here. I’m actually not sure what those rap guys would do without jerseys.

If the player is a relative. Or a close friend. You’re showing support for a loved one. This is totally cool. (A related anecdote: This fall I was at a Missouri-Arkansas football game and saw the father of Mizzou defensive end Shane Ray wearing an old-school Missouri jersey with “Ray” on the back. It was actually the father’s jersey from the ’80s because he also played for Mizzou, but he was wearing it—I assumed—as an expression of love for his son. This kind of thing is great, I’m all for it.)

If it’s Jackie Robinson’s jersey. This one is a major exception. Social progress and all that. In fact, we should all probably have a replica of Jackie Robinson’s jersey in our closet and wear it from time to time. Sort of like retiring someone’s jersey, only the opposite.

If you’re being funny. Like if it’s a really old jersey. (Got Latrell Sprewell’s jersey from his Golden State Warrior days? Wear it. Somehow got Tris Speaker’s jersey? Wear that baby to an Indians game.) Anything that’s sort of clever or that would make a passerby smile is fair game. Which means the jerseys of fictional characters are not only okay, they are encouraged. Like if you’ve somehow got Kathy Ireland’s jersey from Necessary Roughness, definitely wear it proudly. Actually, if you’ve got the jersey of anyone from that team, put it on. Ideally under Robert Loggia’s Texas State Armadillos windbreaker.

ap-jersey-girlWe do love Sierra Grahn’s jersey style. (Note: Pics taken before all the bad AP news.)

If your girlfriend is somehow into it. But don’t count on that one. I surveyed a few women on this topic—including the beautiful and talented Shay Mitchell in this video right here—and, surprisingly to me, none of them said it really bothered them. But some of them also said they’ve never really dated a jersey-wearer. And none of them said it turned them on. Which is sort of what you’re going for with your clothing, right? Related note: Totally cool for women to wear jerseys. It’s just different. And by different I mean kinda hot.

If you’re watching the World Cup. Once every four years is fine. That’s about the right amount of frequency to wear the jersey of another man. Couple times a decade to show a little patriotism. No problem.

Now, I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but there are two more things that really bother me about the whole “wearing another man’s jersey” thing. One, most of the time the jersey being worn is an NFL jersey. Which seems like the worst jersey you could wear, from a “flattering your body” perspective.

NFL jerseys were designed to be worn by muscle-bound professional athletes over shoulder pads. So wearing it when you’re, A, not muscle-bound, and, B, not wearing shoulder pads, means it fits you about as well as a garbage bag. It’s not a great look. Every stylist will tell you that the easiest way to look better is to wear slim-fit clothing. With an NFL jersey you’re going the opposite way. This also explains why wearing a soccer jersey with another guy’s name on the back is a less egregious mistake. At least the thing fits. Because it was originally designed to be worn by a shoulder pad-less guy who stands 5’8” and weighs 150 pounds.

But the bigger thing that bugs me about the jersey-wearing is that it encourages guys to live vicariously through others, in the same way that fantasy sports allow you to be a general manager of a team… in a make-believe world. My feeling is, okay, go to the game, root for the team, celebrate if they win, be sad for a little while if they lose. But then get back to your own life. Don’t put these guys on a pedestal. Put yourself on a pedestal. Be your own hero. Win your own version of a Super Bowl. Those personal victories will be more lasting and satisfying. (Or so I hear.) It’s like the tagline from that Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Stop dreaming, start living. What a fantastic fucking message from a less than fantastic fucking movie.