Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Maryland's Football Uniforms. . . And Contemporary Culture. . . .

Nothing could be more exciting than watching Cliff Lee pitch against the Braves. . . or so I thought last night. I found something pretty amazing when I flipped over to the Maryland - Miami football game on ESPN. If you happened to catch the Terp's uniforms you know exactly what I'm talking about. They were so outlandish that they prompted love them/hate them debates that I'm sure will be water-cooler fodder all over the place today.

If I might weigh in with my personal opinion. . . at first glance I loved them. They're out-of-the-box, over-the-top, incredibly creative. I'm sure most viewers lacking context wondered what in the world was going on. Because I vacation with my family in Maryland every summer, I immediately recognized the Maryland State Flag running all over the field. I might be biased toward the uniforms as they remind me of the flags flown all over the place at our vacation destination. Yes, my favorable response might actually be evidence of the fact that Pavlov was right about those salivating dogs!

Before the season started, Maryland's new coach Randy Edsall paraded an array of new uniform styles and combinations in front of the press. Seems that Maryland was going to surpass the Oregon Ducks for on-field style supremacy. There's a part of me that loves this kind of stuff. I've always loved uniforms. When I was a little guy, I spent alot of time looking at the NFL mini-helmet collection that was mine thanks to an offer on a box of Frosted Flakes. The colors. . . the logos. . . OK. . . I know. . . weird.

Today, I'm thinking about uniforms and helmets once again thanks to the University of Maryland football team. This time around, however, I'm thinking about the cultural significance of what we saw last night. Here are a few initial thoughts about what this uniform stuff tells us about who we are and what we value . . .

-It's all about the choices. We live in a world where the "same old same old" gets really, really boring. We need choices and we need change.

-It's all about individualization and customization. Ironically, we still all walk to the beat of the same drummer in our peer-driven desire for something that's different from what other people have or do. We want to express ourselves. We decorate our cell phones with customized skins and ring tones. Menstruating young girls can now purchase tampons in a variety of bright and expressive colors. . . seriously.

-It's all about style. I need to grab attention. Choices, individualization, and customization all allow me to create my style, my look, my persona.

-Uniformity isn't really necessary in a postmodern world. Of course, everyone who's on the same team will be wearing the same thing. That hasn't changed. But the Maryland uniforms we saw last night were not mirror-imaged. I remember how the little Pittsburgh Steelers helmet in my childhood collection bugged me because it wasn't uniform. It only had a decal on one side. Last night we saw that taken to an extreme from the top of their helmets to the bottom of their pants. We can now be all over the place and uneven morally, spiritually, ethically, and on our uniforms.

-Marketing and consumerism rules. I see this every time I check out the Majestic Store at Citizen's Bank Park. When I was a kid, the Phillies had two uniforms - home and away. Each of those uniforms shared the same hat. One uniform was white. One uniform was gray. Now, there is a dizzying array of anything and everything. Why is that? Well, just check out the aforementioned observations and add to that the fact that we buy it all. There's lots of money to spend and lots of money to be made.

The University of Maryland has begun something that won't stop very soon at all. Keep at eye on it as it spreads like wildfire. And. . . . think about it.


Stephanie said...

Walt, it's only a uniform, please don’t take it out of context. Or, are you just looking at a “different aspect” of it? :-) :-) :-)

Seriously, you raise an issue that I am not quite sure of where I stand. I am all for individualism and creativity, as I believe a herd mentality can be extremely dangerous. History has shown this to be true over and over. But I also see an obvious danger in not following any norms. Are baggy low pants and baseball caps worn all different ways a sign of healthy creativity or unhealthy rebellion? Perhaps it is a combination of both. But if so, is it more rebellion or creativity?

What makes this such an important issue is that it definitely contributes to - “ We can now be all over the place and uneven morally, spiritually, ethically, and on our uniforms.”

I hope your vacation didn’t get totally rained out.

Oh yea, and thanks for tolerating me.

Anonymous said...

I happen to love the uniforms for a number of reasons. And since maybe Stephanie is listening (lol) here goes:

1- The owner or ceo or something of Under Armor is giving back to the school he graduated from. I think that's a win for the school, the company, and the dude.

2- It highlights a state flag. I asked a group of 4th-5th graders to name us cities and they said things like New Mexico, Japan, Texas. It was refreshing to see something done with some relevance to the state.

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