We probably all agree: ideally, Olympic athletes should head to The Games clad in uniforms and gear designed and made in their respective countries. The miracle of globalization aside, The Games are still an international contest not only of athleticism, skill and sportsmanship but also of national pride. Over the course of the last century or so, the event has become the single-most conspicuous showcase of national and cultural achievement in the world. If the competition itself is about sport, the event in its totality is about much, much more. So yes, in an ideal world, every bit of swag carried by a team should come from its country. Hats, shoes, warm-ups, backpacks, they should all suggest to onlookers “this is us too. This is what we can do. Our country is cool like that.”
So naturally, it stings when a team arrives at The Games clad in uniforms made by foreign labor in a far-off country. It kind of sends the wrong message, doesn’t it? It kind of says “we could have made that stuff here, but we’ve decided to export our national pride right along with our jobs. Don’t tell anyone but we were too lazy to try to make it all here, and it cost too much anyway. And in case you hadn’t noticed, we kind of like cheap shit. I mean look at us! This beer helmet only cost me $9.99 for crying outloud!”
Not exactly what you would call a well crafted exercise in national branding.
It isn’t surprising then that last week, American lawmakers, after being notified that the US Olympic team’s uniforms had been manufactured in China instead of the good old US of A, decided to bitch and moan and show how disgusted they were about the whole thing:
Republicans and Democrats railed Thursday about the U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision to dress the U.S. team in Chinese manufactured berets, blazers and pants while the American textile industry struggles economically with many U.S. workers desperate for jobs.
“I am so upset. I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference on taxes.
“If they have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it, painted by hand, then that’s what they should wear,” he said, referring to an athletic jersey.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference that she’s proud of the nation’s Olympic athletes, but “they should be wearing uniforms that are made in America.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said simply of the USOC, “You’d think they’d know better.”
Can you blame them? No. Of course not. They’re right. My first reflex was exactly the same as theirs.
But then, I read this:
In a statement, the U.S. Olympic Committee defended the choice of designer Ralph Lauren for the clothing at the London Games, which begin later this month.
“Unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded and we’re grateful for the support of our sponsors,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “We’re proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren, an iconic American company, and excited to watch America’s finest athletes compete at the upcoming Games in London.”
Ralph Lauren also is dressing the Olympic and Paralympic teams for the closing ceremony and providing casual clothes to be worn around the Olympic Village. Nike has made many of the competition uniforms for the U.S. and outfits for the medal stand.
On Twitter, Sandusky called the outrage over the made-in-China uniforms nonsense. The designer, Sandusky wrote, “financially supports our team. An American company that supports American athletes.”
And right there and then, I realized something that, in my initial disgusted outrage, I had missed completely that the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded. Ah. Well, that changes everything.
Here’s an idea: if you want American-made uniforms (which is totally understandable, we all want that) then write your congressman and demand that the Olympic program receive adequate funding from the federal government. Then, as owners of the US Olympic program, we the people can legitimately have a say as to where the uniforms are made (hopefully right here in the US).
Otherwise though, it’s probably best to just thank the sponsors who are footing the bill for you and STFU.
Here’s the soundbite I would actually like to hear from those outraged lawmakers at some point: “We could have opted to hand over funding to the private sector and risk have the uniforms manufactured overseas, and there were certainly compelling financial reasons to choose that option, but we felt that the uniforms absolutely should be American-made. To that end, we voted to do the responsible thing, which is to provide adequate financial support to the US Olympic program and ensure that those manufacturing jobs remain right here in the US.”
But no. Instead, we get fist-shaking and finger-pointing.
In the same vein, I can’t wait for lawmakers to voice their outrage when they finally discover in a few years that US astronauts have to resort to hitching rides on really ugly and dangerous looking European and Chinese rockets instead of fancy American spacecraft. (What? We defunded NASA’s manned space program? When?!)
It’s almost as if US lawmakers are just now finding out that the US textile industry has all but been decimated under their watch in the last few decades. (Um, yes, that fancy golf-themed tie you’re wearing was made in Bangladesh, that crap suit you couldn’t be bothered to have taken in by a proper tailor was made in Vietnam, and those rubber-soled 2-for-1 shoes you think are so fly were made in China.) So a) thanks for protecting and supporting US jobs, asshole, and b) please, why don’t you shake your angry little fist on TV and lecture us all on how we need to buy American? Because coming from you, that’s just dandy.
But I digress.
Friendly tip to lawmakers: if you deliberately defund a program, that program has to go become someone else’s bitch. And here’s the funny thing about giving up ownership of something: it isn’t yours anymore. You gave it away. It’s kind of like dumping your girlfriend and then bitching about how the diamond ring that her new boyfriend gave her isn’t what you would have bought. Yeah. You’ve just become that guy.
If you want to have your say, then fund the program. Own it. Nurture it. Grow it. Be responsible for it. Otherwise, have a Coke, a smile and shut the proverbial fuck up. Or better yet, call up the sponsors who are generously footing the bill for your lazy, stingy ass and thank them for picking up the tab for you.
Instead of complaining about the made-in-China uniforms they paid for because you wouldn’t, you should be on your knees kissing their asses and sending them chocolates for Christmas. Because without them, you wouldn’t even have an Olympic program to complain about. And if you had done your jobs for the last 30 years, the Ralph Laurens and Nikes of the world would have had realistic incentives to invest in more manufacturing capacity in the US instead of moving those jobs overseas. Chew on that next time your pro-deregualtion, pro-private-sector-solution ass walks into a clothing store and decides to continue supporting the creation of foreign jobs at the expense of US ones with every dollar you spend there. Keep preaching economic patriotism and US job creation too, while you’re at it. What? Our Olympic uniforms are made in China?! Oh the humanity!!!
So here we go:
Dear Ralph Lauren, Nike and the rest of the brands sponsoring and funding the US Olympic program, thank you for what you do. Without you, the US probably wouldn’t be going to the Olympics at all. What could be better than American companies that support American athletes and put clothes on their backs? Thank you. You do more for these kids and the image of the United States than all of Congress put together. So don’t listen to their sourpuss bullshit and keep it up.
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