November 10, 2009

Nike Pro Combat Uniforms and Publicity...

In the latest uniform publicity stunt from Nike, the corporate behemoth has released special outfits for college teams to wear in rivalry games later this month.  I say outfits because each school has been given special jerseys, pants, belts, helmets, undershirts, underwear, socks, and shoes. The Nike web site with profiles of the uniforms is here.  The teams involved are:
  • Texas Christian University 
  • Florida State University
  • University of Miami
  • University of Texas
  • Ohio State University
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Florida
  • Virginia Tech University
  • Louisiana State University
  • University of Oklahoma

These ridiculous costumes, hailed by Nike as "the lightest ever," feature such game-changing elements as a lighter belt buckle and "engineered high-tenacity yarn."  Further jargon can be found in Nike's press release for the FSU uniforms, available here.

While various bloggers and press outlets that have, bashed the new "system of dress," I think there are some issues that have yet to be covered.  Initially, however, there are the traditional economic elements to deal with.

First, consider the pool of Nike-affiliated universities that comprise the group of ten receiving these new uniforms.  I would like to say that this is a case in which the tail, Nike, is wagging the there are no less than 11 Nike logos on FSU's outfit...but the fact of the matter is that to use that analogy would be to misrepresent the tail and the dog.  If there's nothing Andrew Zimbalist has taught us, then it's that the analogy above needs to be reversed.  Nike is the behemoth calling the shots, and all they are really paying to the universities is lip service, "Nike also worked with coaches and administrators at Florida State to bring inspiration..."

Again, this development should come as no surprise.  In fact, it should come as no surprise that these jerseys are ostentatious - or downright ugly - at least they are guaranteed to drum up press - bad, good, or otherwise.  What is somewhat surprising, and something that few have talked about yet, is that Florida State University is even on this list...hasn't the football team fallen so far that it seems out of place on a list with winners of seven out of the last eight BCS Championship games?

Florida State's decreasing relevance aside, at Virginia Tech there is a reason to celebrate these jerseys.  And no, I'm not talking about their all-white kits or the lame Nike slogan (each team has received one...and LSU's is in French) attached: "Good Guys Wear White."  And no, I'm not talking about how that sentiment doesn't seem to jive with a military-style truck that Nike delivered to the Blacksburg campus:

(Shouldn't it be white?)

And I'm even going to withhold exploring the problematic confounding of the idea of combat/violence/war with college football.  These student-athletes are playing a game - a game that has nothing to do with war or combat (I might think Nike would be more sensitive to this idea, given our current state in Afghanistan or even Ft. Hood...).

What I would like to talk about is, unlike Florida State or TCU or many (I suppose) of the other schools on Nike's list, Virginia Tech is using this opportunity for uniform publicity to auction off - for charity - the game worn jerseys after their November 14th meeting with the Maryland Terrapins.  The charity, as noted in this VT press release, is Herma's Readers, a charity that encourages reading and literacy among children between the ages of four and nine.

So, with all of the baggage that these new uniforms bring - and ironically, remember, they are Nike's lightest ever - at least one school is taking the opportunity to do something good for society...which is more than Florida State can say.  And that's sad.  Because when your football program is so bad you can't even sell out a homecoming game, you could really use some good publicity.

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