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The significance of the Cartier glasses worn by the University of Michigan Wolverines

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tonight the University of Michigan Wolverines face off against the University of Washington Huskies for the College Football National Championship. If you have been watching, you know the No.-1-ranked Wolverines defense came up with a new way to celebrate turnovers early last season. The player who gets the takeaway wears Cartier sunglasses on the sidelines. Bryce Huffman in Michigan reports on why the celebration has special cultural significance in the Detroit area.

BRYCE HUFFMAN, BYLINE: During a football game in 2022, former Michigan defensive back R.J. Moten made an interception. Then he headed to the sidelines. There, his teammates handed him a pair of Cartier sunglasses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: R.J. Moten with cool shades on.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: Oh, he's got - those are the Buffs right there.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: He's got the Cartiers.

HUFFMAN: For anyone who has spent time in Detroit, these sunglasses are known as Buffs. For Michigan football, the sunglasses are a reward for getting a takeaway on defense. For Black and brown Detroiters, though, they are so much more.

ICEWEAR VEZZO: I bought my first pair of Buffs when I was in seventh grade.

HUFFMAN: This is Detroiter and rapper Chivez Smith, better known by his stage name Icewear Vezzo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE BUFFS WHITE TRUS")

ICEWEAR VEZZO: (Rapping) White Buffs, white work, white Trus.

HUFFMAN: By the time Smith began rapping in the mid-2000s, he says Buffs were already a big deal for people in the city.

ICEWEAR VEZZO: You immediately know whoever got them glasses on, they crossed some type of milestone in their life to where they all right. They doing good mentally, financially. However it may be, they doing well for themselves.

HUFFMAN: Jewelry and cars have long been seen as status symbols in American culture, but for Detroiters specifically, Smith says Buffs are in their own lane.

ICEWEAR VEZZO: Growing up, when I used to put them Buffs on, bruh (ph), I felt like Superman, like I transformed, like I'm a whole nother person.

HUFFMAN: Buffs have become synonymous with Detroit rappers and hustlers. They go for about $2,000 on average. Imani Mixon is an arts and culture writer from Detroit. She says high-fashion items like Buffs have helped people in the city look good and feel good for decades.

IMANI MIXON: Visually, it's stunning to see Black people choose to display how they want to be seen through these glasses.

HUFFMAN: But they are expensive, and plenty of people have had their Buffs stolen.

MIXON: You also maybe shouldn't wear Buffs if you can't defend yourself (laughter). I think that goes for any luxury item.

HUFFMAN: Buffs and Detroit's unique rap style didn't get popular outside the Motor City until the past few years. Jennifer Onwenu hosts the YouTube show Ask Jen. The social media influencer often starts dialogue within the city's Black community. Onwenu says at first, she didn't like seeing non-Detroiters rock the city's style.

JENNIFER ONWENU: Because I felt like people really didn't know what was going on.

HUFFMAN: Now that the University of Michigan Wolverines started the turnover Buffs trend, Onwenu has softened her stance.

ONWENU: I feel like enough time has gone past that the connection between the Buffs and how they celebrate it, how they operate is very authentic to Detroit.

HUFFMAN: After all, the Wolverines play just 45 minutes from Detroit. And now Buffs are a cultural staple with multiple generations.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CADE CUNNINGHAM")

BABYTRON: (Rapping) Put the Buffs on my jacket - Cade Cunningham. Put the Buffs on my jacket - Cade Cunningham. Put the Buffs on my jacket - Cade Cunningham.

HUFFMAN: Local rapper James Johnson, or BabyTron, is just 23 years old, but even he wears Buffs and raps about them. Johnson says it wasn't enough for him to simply wear a pair that someone gave him.

BABYTRON: I had to earn a pair. I wanted to make money. It was only, like - what? - $2,000. So I just wanted to make $2,000 and get some buzz.

HUFFMAN: When he was 17, he bought his first pair.

BABYTRON: I'm, like, 10 pairs in now, though.

HUFFMAN: Although he won't be at this year's national championship game, Johnson is happy that his favorite college team is embracing a piece of Detroit culture. For NPR News, I'm Bryce Huffman in Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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United States & World Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Bryce Huffman
Bryce Huffman is Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter. Huffman has been serving as a reporter for Michigan Radio since Fall 2016. He has covered a variety of Michigan stories, including immigrants facing deportation, the Detroit-area doctor involved in the female genital mutilation case, and residents concerned about a massive sinkhole in Macomb County. A Detroit native, Huffman graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in Journalism. He joined Michigan Radio as a newsroom intern in May 2016.