Northwestern’s relationship with Under Armour has been a very, very successful one.
The Wildcats became one of Under Armour’s premiere featured teams for their uniforms, designed a jersey that was largely liked by players, fans and fashion critics. And the Wildcats embraced the whole culture and attitude that comes with the new apparel provider. At least, as much as you can.
NU likes the notoriety and the buzz these jerseys generate. Wins matter more of course.
This is a bye week, though, and the biggest news from Northwestern is the unveiling of a new Wounded Warriors Project jersey from Under Armour that Northwestern will wear next Saturday against Michigan. The special jerseys are usually a time to celebrate and make a little extra money in merchandise sales (although a good chunk of the profits from sales of these jerseys will go to support Wounded Warriors Project, a very worthy and celebrated cause).
The uniforms have drawn a fair amount of criticism for some oversights in the design that have come to offend some soldiers and their families. Articles and news reports have sprung up with opinions on the jerseys and the running paint that does kind of look like blood spatter from Deadspin to The Huffington Post to San Francisco’s KTVU.
Both Under Armour and Northwestern issued apologies for any confusion regarding the jerseys. They flat out said they did not mean to offend and did not consider the possibility that others would consider this to be blood spatter, or anything like that. As the Associated Press noted, Boston College wore very similar uniforms last year with the same “running colors” design.
Our pal Jon Davis (aka @NUHighlights) provided his thoughts on a controversy that really is not one. He captures the sentiment pretty well. Neither Under Armour nor Northwestern would do something to offend veterans intentionally. Especially considering Under Armour has a strong relationship with Wounded Warrior Project and has done this kind of a partnership in the past and have done other promotional partnerships in the past. It is clear Under Armour’s intentions are nothing but pure and they would not do something that would alienate one of their biggest philanthropic partnerships.
Of course, veterans and their family’s are a large group. What might offend one group or subset might offend another. All you can do is say, “Sorry, we did not mean to offend,” and move on. Both NU and Under Armour have done that.
And there is a bit of buzz-generation that comes with jerseys. Even if it is negative, people are talking about Northwestern and about these jerseys. That is something of a win for both NU and Under Armour in staying in the public consciousness. It is also a moneymaker too with the opportunity to sell new jerseys. I have been told that Let’s Tailgate has already sold out of the new jersey. It appears enough fans feel OK enough with these uniform to throw down $60-$70 to have one of their own.
This “controversy” though loses sight on what is most important and the whole reason Northwestern agreed to eliminate any shred of purple for a week. This is all to raise money for Wounded Warrior Project. That is where there might be a more interesting debate and controversy over these uniforms. Only about 10 percent of the sales of the uniforms will go to Wounded Warrior Project. The auction of the game-worn jerseys will all go to Wounded Warrior.
UPDATE: Darren Rovell of ESPN is reporting Northwestern will donate its entire cut of the jersey sales to Wounded Warrior Project.
Northwestern says it will donate its entire cut from the Under Armour Wounded Warrior Project merchandise it is selling at retail
— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) November 7, 2013
The execution of this plan to honor and recognize veterans — how else can a football team do this beside wearing uniforms and raising some kind of awareness, right? — may not have been the best. There are certainly still some issues to be resolved. The intent is a good one though.
The intent is a very good one though. And we have no reason to think Northwestern does not mean what it intends.
So let’s push aside the controversy and by kickoff next Saturday recognize these jerseys for what they really are and what Northwestern and Under Armour intend them to be.