In these contentious and polarized times, it warms the heart to see that every once in a while Republicans and Democrats can join together to engage in some meaningless bombasticism. So it was when last week it was revealed that the uniforms Ralph Lauren designed for the American Olympic team to wear at the opening and closing ceremonies were sewn in China. Politicians in both parties rushed to the cameras to shake their fists and bare their teeth in defense of American textile producers, of which there are vanishingly few anymore.
But what I saw no politician complaining about was the fact that the uniforms feature a gigantic corporate logo, Lauren's polo player, on the left breast pocket. You'd think that upon seeing the design, someone on the Olympic committee would have said to the company, "Hey, we love the uniforms, but I think we'll lose the logo, mmmkay? You're already getting millions in free publicity out of this, so don't push it." But I guess no one said that.
Even though the United States is the epicenter of the corporatization of everything, our sports teams have remained weirdly logo-free. In other parts of the world, team uniforms are dominated by advertising. The uniforms of Manchester United, the world's most valuable sports franchise, say "Manchester United" in tiny letters, but "Aon" (an insurance company) in gigantic letters, along with a Nike swoosh. Real Madrid's uniforms have a tiny team logo along with an Adidas symbol and "bwin" (a sports betting outfit) across the chest. Bayern Munich has T-Mobile. You get the idea. Here in America, only second-tier leagues like the MLS and WNBA have gone that route; the big four leagues have so far resisted (although the NBA is considering it).
I don't think that those uniforms have destroyed their sports, and I'm certainly not naïve about the fact that sports is a business whose purpose is to provide us enough temporary amusement to make us willing to part with as much of our money as possible. But isn't the Olympics supposed to be just a little different? Yes, the Olympics has plenty of corporate sponsors, but can't there be some areas carved out that at least let us believe that this event is about witnessing the limits of human physical capability, and not just about selling clothes? Surely at the opening and closing ceremonies, when all the athletes march under their nation's flags, we could have just a few minutes when nobody is telling us to buy Polo or drink Slurm or whatever. Is that too much to ask?