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B1G The Beautiful: Northwestern and the "Bloody Flag" uniforms

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It's time for an honest discussion about the American flag in college football

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

[Ed note: OTE is taking this week off from team previews in B1G 2015 to focus on America & Football since the Fourth of July is on Saturday.]

Three years ago Northwestern's contract with Adidas ended and the school partnered with Under Armour for athletic apparel. So far, it's been a big success with sharp looking stripes festooned everywhere across athletic facilities and also jerseys.

White Stripe Jerseys

Purple BBcourtish

I own a purple and a gothic black jersey and like them a lot better than the purple Tyrell Sutton jersey I bought in 2006. All in all, Northwestern's partnership has been great, except for one big black mark..

The Wounded Warrior uniforms.

Under Armour is a major sponsor of the Wounded Warrior project , which "honors and empowers Wounded Warriors".

However, the jerseys and helmets Northwestern wore were patterned after the American flag, specifically a distressed American flag.

Unfortunately, the distressed flag to some people looked like a blood stained flag, and Northwestern got an inordinate amount of shit for thatSeriously.  I hated that.

Not only that, but other schools like Boston College and Hawaii wore almost the same damn uniforms and they weren't criticized at all as far as I can tell. I guess no one gives a shit about Boston College or Hawaii football.



Also, it's not just Northwestern football: Maryland Men's Lacrosse wore these too!
Maryland mlax ww

According to our Maryland writer DJ Carver there was no controversy our outrage about Maryland wearing these uniforms. I'm curious if anyone from SBN's awesome Maryland community Testudo Times has heard anything about this.

To be fair, Under Armour did have to this to say about the distressed flag jersey and the ensuing controversy:
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.
I don't fully buy or accept Under Armour's explanation. The American flag means something to me. I was told in Boy Scouts or civics class to always respect the flag and NEVER EVER EVER let it get dirty or worn or touch the ground.  The flag stands for all of us and should be respected, not besmirched for a misinterpreted for a misguided cause.

However, I never had to fight for the flag. I don't have the perspective of those that did. In that vein, I've decided to ask GoForThree and Ted Glover to (re) introduce themselves , tell us about their military backgrounds, and for their thoughts on this.

Ted--Hi kids. I retired from the military in 2008 after 22 years, split between the Army and the Air Force. Most of my time was as a fugitive from justice, chasing a one armed man across the country. In between chases I was a helicopter pilot, flying CH-47's in the Army and MH-53's in the Air Force, and did more than a few stints in shitty places where people didn't like me and tried their damndest to kill me. But seriously, Fayetteville, NC wasn't all that bad. I was also the Ohio State writer here for a couple years, and I wrote a lot of nonsensical bullshit that some of you liked, for whatever reason. It's no coincidence that when I left, shortly thereafter OSU won the national championship. Also, stay off my lawn.

Not even kidding about the last part.


GF3--Think of me as Ted 2.0 (kidding, I fail to reach Ted's level in many ways, especially lawncare). I joined the Army in 2004 as an aviator, and cut my teeth as a Scout/Attack pilot in the venerable OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. I spent my first 15 months overseas during the now famous (infamous) "Iraq Surge." After that I spent some time in non-flying roles in special operations before moving on to some special operations aviation jobs that have been incredibly rewarding. That's where I am today, freshly returned from a year of schooling in Kansas.

All in all I've deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan. I fear history will judge it all to have been a terrible, terrible waste. But that's merely one man's opinion on the matter. Nonetheless, I keep on trucking. It turns out that my vow to myself that I would never spend a second in the Army beyond my five year commitment was a real crock. Going on 12 years later, I still really, really like being a part of your U.S. Army. Serving my country has been a life-altering experience for a kid from a small town in Ohio. Anyhow, I ended up here because Ted saw something I wrote and suggested me as his cheap, no-frills, bargain-basement replacement. You get what you pay for.

LPW: What does the flag mean to you? Has serving changed in any way your perspective on the flag?

Ted--I know a lot of people see the flag as a divisive thing these days, and I think that's a shame in many ways. Has America done some nefarious shit over the course of our history that we're still coming to grips with? Yeah, we have and we are. Is America still the best country on earth, with freedoms people in other countries can only dream of? Yeah. America is still this evolving Grand Experiment, and our flag, I think, represents us all. For all her faults and warts, America still is a shining beacon on a hill for millions of people, and the flag represents that. I get freedom of speech and all that, but the flag represents all of us. All of our good, and all of our imperfections. I still get goosebumps when I see it rippling in the breeze. Always will.

GF3--When I was young, we lived in suburban Washington, DC (this was before my folks heard the siren call of northern Ohio and dragged their progeny back to the welcoming bosom of the Midwest). At the end of our cul-de-sac street lived an old gentleman named Herb. Herb had a flag pole in his yard. Every morning he raised the flag and saluted it. At day's end, he'd lower it, fold it properly, and store it in a box for the next day. Herb was gentle and kind, always making time for the kids in the neighborhood. He would let me watch the daytime version of Wheel of Fortune (that was a thing in the 80s, kids) with him and taught me how to cut a cigar. Herb also taught me how to fold the flag. Many evenings in the summer I'd pedal down to his house and we'd lower the flag, fold it together, and put it in the smooth wooden box. I share that story because Herb taught me at a very young age that the flag was to be venerated, respected, and celebrated. He didn't take the lazy way out by just sticking one on his house. He sunk a pole in his yard and did it the right way. I always remember him for his love of country and the adoration he had for our national colors.

Herb died in 1998. As a kid, I had known Herb was once a Marine. He had a beautiful oil portrait of himself in his blues above the mantle...and he was deaf as a stump from artillery. Only after he passed did I realize that Herb wasn't just any Marine. He retired as the fourth Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. So to me, the meaning of the flag is very closely tied to the life of a man who joined the Marines as a kid, earned four purple hearts, and carried the ideals of service, sacrifice, love, and fidelity throughout his life.

LPW: What was your reaction when you saw the Wounded Warrior jerseys?

Ted--I get the nod to service and blah blah blah, but in general I thought the uniforms looked like ass. The only company that's been able to pull off retro or alternate uniforms have been Nike, and they're hit and miss. Under Armour and Adidas must have people drop acid before they design these hideous piles of shit, and they get worse and worse with each passing season. I mean, I wasn't offended as an American or former Army guy or anything because of the distressed flag, but I'm generally not a fan of using the flag as clothing anyway. You're just asking for trouble when you do, regardless of attire. There's too many people that like to get offended far too easily these days. I will admit I was kind of surprised, though.

Also, and this is probably just me, but I'm getting pretty tired of the continual overt courting of the military by damn near everyone. Just stop it. It's gotten to a point where we've moved past honoring and recognizing to flat out patronization. It feels forced and fake to me now, and I think we should just put the over the top military recognition to the side for awhile. It's also creating an undeserved sense of entitlement among a fair amount of military folks, who think wearing the uniform means they should get a free grab bag of shit whenever they walk into a store and a 10-20% discount.

GF3--First, Ted hits the most salient point: them suckers was u-g-l-y. They were poorly conceived and poorly executed--which, as the esteemed Mr. Glover also pointed out, is also pretty typical of most tribute uniforms. Northwestern's uniforms were undeniably bad. At least they didn't venture into the nearly unforgivable realm of using camouflage patterns. That's the height of visual sin from a patriotism standpoint. Camouflage doesn't even look good on military uniforms. It's just a necessity. Camouflage pants on a quarterback? Come on. Give us a break.

Ted isn't alone in his weariness over the constant military tributes. It's become a knee-jerk dog and pony show. The genre of military tributes is slowly morphing into a weird pantomime schtick, seemingly driven by a national sense of guilt. I don't doubt that it feels worse to those on the inside of the military, as we can suss out the bullshit a little better. Years ago, the surprise reunions of a soldier or Marine returning from Iraq or Afghanistan were unexpected and heartwarming. Does anyone watch a "family of a service member at a sporting event" clips and even remotely expect anything other than a "surprise" reunion now? Once it becomes part of the standard script, it ceases to have meaning.

LPW: Would anyone have cared about this if the jerseys and helmet had been patterned with a non distressed flag?

Ted--Well, if any Big Ten team should wear something that screams 'distress' and/or 'we're fucked', it's Northwestern, AMIRITE??? [Ed note: Northwestern gave OSU the toughest game of Urban Meyer's tenure so far in 2013, and dammit Kain Colter should've gotten that first down!]

Ted's retort to Ed note: Northwestern lost by 10, then lost another six in a row, another 8 of 9 games over the next two years, and hasn't been to a bowl game in two seasons. That Ohio State game broke Northwestern, plain and simple. Could've been those shitty ass uniforms, too.

Either way...You come at the King, you best not miss.

LPW: Dammit all to hell :(

GF3--Look, you're Northwestern. Your biggest fan is literally measured in square footage. No matter what you did, you were going to have a few jabs thrown your way. Ahem...gothic lettering [Ed note: The Gothic Uniforms ROCK!]. Anyhow, to answer your question more pointedly: no. Nobody would've cared in the way that people supposedly cared. I don't know that many people really did care, bug the arc of the internet bends toward fauxtrage anymore. Your boys walked into Ryan Field with a big ol' "Kick me and be fauxtraged" sign on their star-spangled backs.

LPW: Any parting thoughts?

Ted--Northwestern sucks. Fuck Michigan. Go Bucks, let's repeat.

GF3--By and large, I find that the average American is very gracious toward members of the armed services. A simple thank you is all it takes. Or, if you like, nothing at all. This is a free country, and you as a citizen should never feel pressured to thank someone in uniform. We've been a volunteer force for four decades now. We all signed up willingly. Just please don't try to pay for my meal. That's always weird. Oh, and fuck Michigan again.

LPW: If UA boss Kevin Plank or Northwestern AD Jim Philips read this: please never have any team wear distressed flag jerseys again in any sport.  If the American flag is used in any aspect, make sure the flag is not displayed in a worn or ripped pattern. Jim, please politely rebuff UA and have Fitzy and the kids wear our standard and gothic uniforms. Go Cats!

Patriotic Sherman