A bit of a stink has been raised, here and elsewhere, about Under Armour’s Wounded Warrior jerseys to be worn by Northwestern later this month. They say the jerseys are patriotic; we say they’re morbid and exploitative. Agree to disagree!
An Under Armour spokesperson reached out to us to give an official statement on the hubbub:
Our greatest heroes are the men and women who serve this country and are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to fight for our freedoms. Under Armour’s long-standing partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project is a reflection of our deepest gratitude for this bravery, and it has provided us with a platform to offer financial support to these veterans. For the past five years, we have worked hand-in-hand with WWP to design patriotic uniforms that honor our heroes, with 100% of proceeds from game-worn jersey auctions going directly to WWP. The bold blue and red graphic patterns on the Northwestern University WWP uniforms are meant to celebrate our military personnel and were inspired by images of actual American flags that have been flown around the world in harsh conditions over extended periods of time, as a further tribute to the indomitable spirit of our nation and its protectors. The suggestion that these uniforms are depicting streaks of blood is completely false and uninformed. Under Armour will continue to support the military in the most respectful, visible and meaningful ways possible.
We asked the spokesperson to send over some of the “images of actual American flags that have been flown around the world in harsh conditions over extended periods of time” that inspired these uniforms. We haven’t gotten a response on that yet, but we’ll update if we do.
Under Armour’s response goes to illustrate just how bulletproof patriotism is as a PR move. Donating a token amount of money to a veterans’ group allows a company to spin any legitimate gripes as anti-militarism. When we say these uniforms are hideous, and appear to be—intentionally or not—blood-spattered flag code violations, Under Armour can couch it as disrespectful criticism of Our Brave Troops. It’s a shockingly cynical worldview, but very American—it’s even called, literally, “waving the bloody shirt.”
Marketing-as-patriotism aside, do you realize what these jerseys represent? We have officially reached peak sports jingoism. A shitty 0-5 in-conference football team literally wrapped in bloody American flags with the words “service” and “country” written on the back, with 90 percent of the profits on replica jerseys sold being split between the school and a sportswear company? There’s no way this can be topped, unless Purdue lights a bald eagle on fire, paints it with a Nike swoosh, and has it carry the football to the officials at midfield while Drowning Pool plays over the PA.