Olympic Blazers, Buttons and Berets: A Uniform Firestorm

“Let us take a patriot, where we can meet him; and, that we may not flatter ourselves by false appearances, distinguish those marks which are certain, from those which may deceive; for a man may have the external appearance of a patriot, without the constituent qualities; as false coins have often lustre, though they want weight.”  –   Samuel Johnson (1775)

A Christian evangelist named Jakov once visited a remote Serbian village where ecclesiastical atrocities had previously occurred. He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman talking with him about the love of Christ. The Serbian was not impressed. He argued that the dreadful acts, wrought by unfaithful church leaders in his town, were unforgiveable.

“I do not wish to have anything to do with Christians,” the old man insisted. “They are all liars, cheats, and hypocrites!” Although Jakov strained to defend the Church, Cimmerman angrily rebuffed his every attempt. “The religious leaders wear elaborate coats, caps and crosses,” the old man declared. “Their fancy clothing signifies a heavenly commission, but their evil lives and designs . . . I cannot ignore!”

“Then, can I ask you a question?” asked Jakov. “Imagine if I were to steal your coat and rob the village bank. Suppose further that the police spotted me running in the distance.  Although they were unable to catch me – they recognized your coat. What would you say if they came to your house and accused you of robbery?”  After insisting that he would vehemently deny the accusation, the irritated Serbian asked the evangelist to leave!

Jakov did not surrender to Cimmerman’s resentful logic. For many months he continued to visit his wounded village and share God’s love. Finally, Cimmerman forgave the past, bent his knees in humility, and surrendered his life to Christ. The elderly Serbian rose to his feet, wiped his tears, and embraced Jakov. “Thank you for being in my life,” he said. Then pointing to the heavens he whispered, “You wear His coat very well!”

The recent controversy over the outsourcing of US Olympic uniforms is comparable to Jakov’s missionary experience. The uniform firestorm over the Chinese-made blazers, buttons and berets illustrates the grim condition of our own Nation’s volatile political and economic environments. Virtually every politician—Republican and Democrat—is up in arms about how the Olympic Committee allowed Ralph Lauren to outsource the production of the U.S. team’s opening ceremony uniforms to China.

With negative opinion polling staring them in the face, one can understand why politicians seized the news of Ralph Lauren’s offshore manufacturing tactic as a way to leverage public disapproval.  Images of outraged government officials demonstrating displeasure with foreign-made Olympic coats and caps recently saturated America’s nightly new casts.  Senators vowed to introduce legislation that would mandate that future US Team uniforms must be made in America!  Majority Leader Harry Reid went so far as to publicly say that the current uniforms should be burned!

The ridiculous nature of such congressional posturing is highlighted by the very fact that nearly one-half of America’s clothing is manufactured in China.  Some 98% of the clothing currently purchased in the United States is imported from abroad. Only 2% is manufactured on U.S. soil. In fact, use of foreign made clothing and electronics by governmental leaders has been cited as pandemic.

Whatever the case, the notion that US Olympic uniform manufacturing would potentially provide sustainable jobs, revive idle machinery, and increase the production of U.S. goods is, at the very least, mendacious!  This is not the time for such unabashed political posturing. On the contrary, debate over Ralph Lauren’s decision to have the uniforms sewn by Chinese laborers should be judiciously postponed for a later time – after our medal chested athletes return proudly to American shores.

How did America’s once strong manufacturing prowess depreciate to such a level of vulnerability? How did we get to the point of so casually subcontracting the stitch of our textiles? Most experts claim that the situation originated when companies began outsourcing production to low wage countries like Bangladesh, China, India and Sri Lanka. Others cite the abolishment of the Multi Fibre Agreement (1974-1994) that governed global textile and garment trade as the primary trigger.

The MFA was introduced as a short-term measure intended to allow developed countries to adjust to imports from the developing nations that have a natural advantage because of their low labor costs.  Deemed a protectionist measure, the MFA was replaced by the 1995 Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) that sought to phase out all quota restrictions in four phases spread over a period of 10 years. The expiry of the ATC Agreement in 2005 meant that trade in textile and clothing products was no longer subject to quotas but now governed by the general rules and disciplines embodied in the multilateral trading system.

Ideally, Olympic athletes should all wear uniforms designed and manufactured in their respective countries. While no one would deny the symbolic nature of such a gesture, national pride might be better showcased in the arena of hard-won achievement than on the fashion runways of trendy global telecasts.  As the touching story of Jakov and Cimmerman illustrates, character is much more persuasive than clothing!

Olympic athletes are christened to complete and not to vogue. Although the Ralph Lauren logo appears as the most prominent visual item on America’s Olympic uniforms, our focus should unfalteringly remain on our nation’s athletic performance and not on the tag of its fashion. To do so would rob the Olympic games of their intrinsic value!

The word “uniform” is derived from the Latin words “unus,” meaning one, and “forma,” denoting form. The origin of the term is illustrated by the military’s need for identification. During the heat of ancient battle, soldiers were not able to easily distinguish foe from friend. As a result, clever generals enjoyed scores of victories by dressing their armies in ” uni-formed” clothing.

Valorous soldiers were later presented distinct uniforms as a way of properly signifying their character and disposition.  Uniforms were awarded to soldiers as a way of denoting reputations of courage and strength, and in direct proportion to a regiment’s victories.  Since the uniform thus makes the person a representative of a nation’s sacrificial service, soldier and athlete wear it alike, with pride!

Displeased by the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of their day, the early Christian Church focused on authentic expressions of lifestyle rather than the distinctiveness of  “uniform” exterior clothing. Like the Serbian elder Cimmerman, faithful Christian leaders correctly understood that what would set the “spiritual” athlete and soldier apart was not the fabric of their fashion, but the culture-changing weave of their faith.  “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” insists Saint Paul. “Tolerate, forgive, and above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:13).

Taken to its illogical conclusion, anxiety over the homestead of American thread would deny our athletes the use of Adidas, Nike and other foreign yet superior brands of sporting equipment. Are we willing to replace Olympic gold with embossed US manufacturing tags? Is this Olympic pride or irrational national arrogance?  Imagine the consequence of insisting that U.S. lawmakers discard and burn anything that they are using that was made abroad — a near-impossible restriction in today’s globalized economy!

Following the legitimate argument of elder Cimmerman, Americans would benefit from examining the manner in which we wear our nation’s polychrome coat – a complex sartorial that expresses our religious, political, and cultural interior hues. Rather than being overly preoccupied with the origin and silhouette of our nation’s athletic clothing, equal attention might, therefore, be lent to the global profile of our moral character.

Italy is the latest country to commission a fashion idol to design its nation’s Olympic vesture. While the United States will wear Ralph Lauren and Great Britain will don the uniform of Stella McCartney, Italian athletes will wrap themselves in the soft silk of Armani. In a real sense, a fashion runway has gradually replaced the athletic podium: McCartney-bronze, Armani-silver, and Lauren-gold.

When juxtaposed, however, to America’s Chinese-made blazers, buttons, and berets, Armani’s athletic design yields a most noteworthy element.  Stitched in the inner lining of the well-tailored outfits are the lyrics of Italy’s national anthem! When asked, it is reported that the 77-year-old Armani included the hidden national anthem because “it inspires national pride!”

Armani is correct! Honor is not publicly worn on the sleeve but embossed in the hidden regions of an athlete’s heart. While foreign-sewn blazers, buttons and berets will be seen at this year’s Olympics, it is the inner core of an athlete’s character and not the homestead of Olympic thread that will be the primary focus of global attention! Nations will not allow themselves to be simply defined by the origin of its tailoring or by the effectiveness of its “Multi Fibre” legislative agreements, but by the talent, skill and agility of its athletes!

Like Cimmerman, the majority of global spectators will not come to slapdash conclusions. The medal of athletic high achievement and not their clothing label will be the measure of true Olympic honor and pride. However, only when medals are fused with the metals of moral character, will an athlete be truly celebrated as one “who wears well” the coat of their respective nation!

 

 

 

 

Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX).

Posted in E-Couragements, Featured