Apparently, the United States has won the Women’s World Cup soccer title for the third time in the history of the seven global tournaments. Except the champs who bludgeoned Japan, 5-2, on the July 4th weekend appeared to be representing some mysterious land that flies a white, black and neon green flag.
Or, very possibly, the Nation of Nike.
The Americans’ raiment was so counterintuitive that, when the duds were introduced in April, a Nike vice president, Charlie Brooks, had to scramble to the outfitter’s defense by claiming the uniforms were meant to “paint inspiration for the team itself—something crisp, stylish, sharp, strong and impactful, like the team itself.”
But, neon green? Rally ‘round the shoe company? Ev’ry heart beats fine/’neath the white, black and lime?
In international sports, nationalism can get a bit haywire at times and morph into an unattractive jingoism that denigrates the Other Side. Nevertheless, those keenly skilled American women were, after all, members of the U.S. National Team. Their fans, who dominated the large crowds at the various Canadian Cup venues, logically draped themselves in red, white and blue flag motifs.
Typically, even those national teams that eschew their flag look tend to opt for hues with significant links to their homelands. Italy (red, green and white flag) wears blue—the Azzurri—because blue is the official color of the Royal House of Savoy, under which Italy was united in the 19th Century. The Netherlands (red, white and blue flag) wears orange, the traditional color of the Dutch monarchy and a symbol of national unity.
I’m of the conviction that U.S. teams—as suggested long ago by my friend John Powers of the Boston Globe—should outfit themselves like Apollo Creed in the old “Rocky” films. All stars and stripes, a little like the 1994 U.S. men’s soccer team.
Instead, the women’s attire in this World Cup reminded that it has been some time since Nike, the sportswear-and-equipment beast, began dictating uniform colors and, in the process, providing a glimpse into the dark shades of Nike’s voracious capitalist heart. By assuring that traditional colors wear out before your souvenir shirt does, Nike can increase its sales. The retail tail wags the on-field dog.
So black is the new blue, neon green the new red. (And subject to change.) Is this the kind of thing that Yale law professor Charles Reich was warning about in his 1970 book, “The Greening of America”? “The corporate state,” he argued, “is an immensely powerful machine, ordered, legalistic, rational, yet utterly out of human control, wholly and perfectly indifferent to any human values.”
Paul Lukas, the sports uniform maven who runs the Uni Watch web site that obsesses over team logos and color combinations, told me several years ago that, in this marketing era, “the first question [uniform designers] ask is, ‘How is this going to sell at the team shop or Modells?’”
Lukas called this all part of the “video-game-ization of sports, the superhero-ization of sports. Superheroes don’t wear uniforms. They wear costumes.”
OK, superheroes: Time for a revolution. Storm the Nike barricades. Take back the nation’s colors.