The Denver Broncos' future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning may be the toast of Colorado, but students in one school district better not wear his jersey to class.
The Greeley-Evans School District for several years has imposed a strict dress code on students forbidding certain clothing that could be associated with gangs, including jerseys with the number 18 that could represent the city's notorious 18th Street gang.
The issue hasn't been a problem until this year, when the Broncos signed free agent Manning, who has worn the No.18 for his entire NFL career. It is also the most popular jersey in the country, according to NFLShop.com.
"Now all of a sudden it is a big deal," said Roger Fiedler, district spokesman who last week was responding to multiple media requests about the jersey flap. "Until yesterday there haven't been any concerns raised about our dress code."
An elementary school student was recently told to stop wearing Manning's jersey because it violated the dress code. His mother called a Denver TV station in protest.
"It's unfortunate that it has become a big deal," Fiedler said. "It is not a new policy. It has nothing against (the Broncos). Mr. Manning is a great role model. We would hope people would understand it has nothing to do with him or the Broncos."
The district has had an anti-gang dress code since at least the 2008-09 school year, forbidding students from wearing blue and red shirts, belts and shoe laces. They are also prohibited from wearing jerseys with the numbers 18, 13 and 14 — the latter two because of their association with the Sureño and Norteño gangs — and the reverse numbers, 31, 41 and 81.
Student must not have shaved or notched eyebrows; cannot wear red or blue "Dickies" or "Southpole" brand pants, shorts or shirts; or red or blue
The purpose, Fiedler said, is to minimize gang activity in school.
"Since we did put this in place, we have had a reduction in the reports or incidents of students displaying gang attire and affiliation, he said.
The 18th Street gang is still a menace in the community, according to prosecutors.
As recently as last week the five members of the 18th Street gang indicted for violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act — the state's anti-racketeering law — were sentenced to prison in Weld County District Court.
Nevertheless, with Manning now wearing Broncos' orange and the jersey more popular than any other player, the district may revisit the ban for this jersey, Fiedler said.
"We could have our safety committee take a look at it," he said. "But we would have to balance that against what issues we would have in our local community."