Friday, April 1, 2011

US Soccer Fans: Actually, You Are Quite Divisible

As the fanfare surrounding the launch of a new uniform for the US Men's National Team died down, Nike quietly released the new uniform for the US Women's National Team - Is this the outfit the women will wear to Germany as they fight for the 2011 World Cup championship?
A USWNT shirt can always be distinguished from the USMNT shirt by the two stars that the women's shirt prominently displays over the USSF badge - one star for each World Cup trophy they've won (1991, 1999). That difference is not enough for Nike and the USSF. They want you to know, for sure, that this is a not a man's shirt. So the FIFA #1 ranked women's team will go to the Germany in a nurse's uniform.

This is quite simply the ugliest women's football jersey I have ever seen. It's central problem is the line someone has drawn down middle of the shirt - a purely decorous gesture meant to create the impression that the USSF would like its women to play in an open necked blouse. 

The uniform is an expression an ongoing effort to divorce the "branding" of the men's team from the legacy of the USWNT circa 1999 (when they last won the World Cup). In doing so, they create a host of problems for those of us who are USWNT and USMNT fans.

For example, women fans are supposed to buy separate shirts to show support for the men's team and for the women's team. Fine - I like those two stars, and I also support the men's team with or without those stars. But men who support both? Unless they want to look like a female jock dressed like a nurse, and they happen to also be small enough to fit in the limited sizes on offer, guys who support the USWNT won't have an option. Which is just as well - because Nike doesn't deserve money from us, for this and a thousand other reasons.

Very few countries offer totally different "looks" for the national uniforms for their men and their women's teams. Part of this is because very few care enough about their women's teams to even consider this. But perhaps it is also because women playing for Brazil (for example) represent that country's futebol tradition, and their style is as much a testament to the legacy of players like Pele, Garrincha, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho as it is to their triumph over the sexism of the country's futebol structures. It's a reminder that one ought not divide the women from the men, as if they play different sports - as if they don't admire and inspire each other on and off the pitch.

Germany and Adidas have gone down the same road as the USSF and Nike, and launched a new "look" for the Frauen:

Germany Men's Team, Away
Germany Women's Team, Away
I can't see why one would want to back away from the bad-ass look of the men's away kit, except in order to "feminize" the women's shirt. As is the case for fans of the USWNT, there is no man's option for fans of the Frauen - as a guy, you either wear that black shirt (for the men), or you wear a shirt cut for a slightly curvy woman. I should say, a lot of women fans don't particularly like these feminized designs: there is something fundamentally irritating about them.

It is one thing to build a shirt to be more comfortable for a woman (women fans who want such shirts can buy them to show their support for men's teams). It is quite another to design a shirt whose primary design function seems to be not the declaration "We are our country's national team," but the anxious apology "We are not the men's team." There is no real purpose to the difference in look other than the re-enforcement of gender division - as if the difference between three and two stars (Germany) and zero and two (the US) were not enough. And this all has really crappy implications regarding male fans of national women's teams, who are completely ignored as active participants in the women's game - the implication is that being a fan of the women's game is basically a form of cross-dressing. Which, in a way (the way of gender and sports politics), I guess it is.

But at least Germany's kit still looks like a football jersey. This is not something I can say about the USWNT uniform.

Maybe we can recover our relationship to that look by imagining it as "heads up" to the competition: By the time the USWNT get through with them, they'll be calling for an ambulance. Not quite the spirit I associate with the squad - Abby Wambach, perhaps, excepted.


  1. I'm sure there is a perfectly fine jersey once you pull down the zipper and remove the top...

  2. Good point! If the sports bra can be built into jersey, when Alex Morgan scores her world cup winning goal, she will rip her shirt off...hooters!

  3. It occurs to me that this looks like a baseball uniform, slightly.

  4. I'm not a huge fan of the new design, but even more than the changes they made to the cut, etc, I am furious at the fact that the away jersey is black?!?! Since when does the US wear black? We're the red, white and BLUE! Ridiculous.

  5. "There is no real purpose to the difference in look other than the re-enforcement of gender division." So what? Why should the USWNT have to share the lackluster history of the USMNT? The different jerseys could be a statement. It could be saying: we ARE different. We win World Cups. I say this as a fan of both US national teams.

    After all, the USMNT have been sporting their "sash" jerseys recently. It's kind of sad that Nike is looking for design inspiration from a US men's team of 60 years ago who are best known for winning a single game. Why should the USWNT want to share that history? They have achieved a lot more.

    But good god what an ugly USWNT kit. I'm kind of ambivalent about the "sash" design of the USMNT jerseys, but at least they are distinguishable. These nurse uniform kits somehow manage to be boring AND ugly.

  6. Andrew - thanks for your comment. I would not complain about the fact that there are different jerseys if it were not for the fact that the lone engine for the redesign seems to be a further "feminization" of the shirt. By which I don't mean the offering of an appropriate size range, or an acknowledgment of the different shapes that women have. As is the case with the Germany kit, the point seems to be a softening of the design to suit someone's idea of what a "girlish" shirt should look like.

    How I would love to see a USWNT jersey appropriate to the team's history, and reflecting its supposed place as a crowning jewel in a model development system for nurturing female athletes. (Whatever complaints we have pale in comparison with the situation of women in many other countries.)

    Again, I don't have a problem with different shirts (every USWNT shirt is different from a USMNT shirt by virtue of its stars!) - I have a problem with shirts that are only distinguished by the hysterical need to constantly assert the femininity of women soccer players. (See my earlier post on the WPS/Puma "skort")

    That said, I think that countries which use the same basic design for both teams make a stronger statement about football: not by saying that men and women are the same, or by saying that men and women are different - but by saying that the men and women who play for their country ultimately represent the people of that country, whatever their gender identity might be.

  7. Good point! I literally laughed out loud when I saw the nurse picture.

  8. Readers of German may want to look at this survey of web sources on "Frauenfussball" that was posted by the Green-affiliated "Heinrich Boell Stiftung".

  9. I just started reading this post while watching the beginning of the USA-Japan match on As the USA kickoff the announcer noted that they're wearing the "new all black outfit."

    Yes, outfit.

    This whole deal sorta makes me want to buy and wear the women's shirt around (I'm a dude, although a gender non-conforming genderqueer dude...), but then I realized that I just don't like the design or the colors in its own right, plus I don't have or want to give a bazillion dollars for nike for it. Bleh.

  10. OK and now that I notice... can you spot the difference?

    Japan men's away shirt:

    Japan women's away shirt:


  11. Funny, I saw them as kimonos. I can definitely see them as nurses outfits.
    Brilliant stuff, I love reading this blog.

  12. You said:

    >the ugliest women's football jersey I have ever seen.

    There's nothing wrong with this year's uniforms. Get over yourself.

  13. It seems to me what's most important is if the players like the uniforms. I haven't read (yet) that they could care less.

  14. (Welcome Yahoo readers.)

    Have it on good authorities players don't hate the kit - how could they? It's the national shirt. I am sure they are very proud to wear it, no matter what it looks like! (Have heard they aren't huge fans of the capped sleeves.)

    But what about us fans - esp the male fans? What shirt do they wear?

    I do write abou actual soccer - not just what people are wearing. Feel free to read my match reports for the 2008 Olympics: good warm up for following the WWC.

  15. there's absolutely NOTHING WRONG with the Jersey. it's supercool.

  16. I'm not sure I follow your logic as far as male fans of the women's team not having a jersey option, or vice versa. As a male fan, I would buy a men's national team jersey, and I would wear this to both games... To me, its more about national pride than construed gender inequality...

  17. Nurse's uniform was exactly what I first thought when I saw the new kit! What bothers me most specifically about it is that by copying that visual cue the uniforms immediately place the women wearing it in an objectified position relative to viewer in a way that plays on an archetype of sexual availability.

    Which is likely what the bigwigs at US Soccer want. Women's sports have long battled to be respected as athletes first and foremost. Many women's sports leagues both in the US and abroad (and often it is worse abroad) specifically pressure or require women to wear the most skin-revealing "uniforms" as possible precisely to sell tickets based on that premise.

    This has been a contentious issue in women's volleyball (both indoor with the ass-creeper non-shorts) and beach volleyball where if you want to wear more than a skimpy bikini you're out. This has also played out in numerous other sports as well.

    Part of the reason US Soccer plays into and promotes this is its desire to project a blanket heterosexual image of the team. I watch TV coverage and the announcers always bring up players who have just gotten straight-married or will be getting straight-married soon. If a player had a really amazing experience on their honeymoon then telling that story might add a little color to the broadcast, I get that. That player X will be getting married 6 months after the World Cup...that is relevant to anything how?

    Meanwhile there is no mention of Abby Wambach's girlfriend or any other same-sex partners of the players who are gay or bi and with women. No mention of their plans to have kids, though any of the women on the USWNT who are considering having kids (or have had kids) in the context of a hetero marriage get lots of verbal back-pats for their family-oriented plans.

    US Soccer went this route after the 1999 World Cup victory as well. And it didn't keep that league from going under. I don't know if marketing the teams and players differently--as in embracing the diversity of players in all forms--would significantly impact the financial viability of the current women's pro leagues. I think there are numerous reasons why it's been hard to make those work, some of which have been examined in other posts on this blog. But to see US Soccer (and Nike) continue down this path is both annoying and at times enraging.

  18. Hi, I just found your blog, glad I did

    I'm from mexico, as you know, for better or whorse, the only sport that matters here is fútbol. for over 100 years, the joy, in terms of our national representation, has been, to say the least, few. but recently with the success at the gold cup and the good results at youth level, the hope is back again to see something bigger in the future. but if I have to be honest, the biggest joy came from our womens national team. these women have sub-zero support from femexfut, and yet they reach the wwc, and play whith the pride and heart so many times lack to their male counterparts, I'm happy for them and I understand their tears after the tie against new zealand; but even more important is that this pride and heart was in all the competition, all the good things about this sport we love were during the world cup, with all the teams, and specially the two reaching the final, what a game, and what a class act after the game was over. I hope the whole world learn about that, specially the mens soccer and specially the latinamerican mens soccer, so hurt right now, and so unwillingly to respect the rival.

    I just wanted to praise your blog actually. I'm sorry if my writing in english is not the best.

    Raúl Galicia, Mexico City.,

  19. Raúl,
    Thank you for such a wonderful comment! I have high hopes for Mexico's women's team. Oh, with just more support - more experience, they should certainly get out of the group stage. And given all the awful headlines about the men's team - I can see how the women would provide a real breath of fresh air - as is the case for Les Bleues!


Feedback? Let me know what you think. Just an FYI: all comments posted to this blog are recorded, whether I publish them or not. I do not publish generally hateful comments - whether they be directed at me or at players and teams or other readers. I appreciate reader feedback, especially from those whose contributions add nuance and complexity to the story.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...