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Oregon Duck Uniforms and the Poverty Level in the U.S.

Cost of Multiple Duck Uniforms Raises Ethical Issues

Saturday night I watched the football game between Oregon and Stanford. I’ve watched the Oregon Ducks before and noticed they seem to have a new uniform for each game. I was intrigued by the fact the University must spend thousands of dollars just on uniforms, although my guess is Nike absorbs most or all of the costs because of the advertising value of millions of kids watching the Ducks in their glossy uniforms. Still, someone is paying for the uniforms.

It seems a bit excessive, even reckless, given there are 46.2 million Americans on poverty or 15.2% of the nation. The government's definition of poverty is based on total income received. For example, the poverty level for 2012 was set at $23,050 (total yearly income) for a family of four. Most Americans (58.5%) will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75.

Nike sells replica jerseys for between $85 to 90. The authentic jerseys with sewn on patches will come out soon, costing $120. For the players, Nike says the new full uniforms are made of sixteen different fabrics, making them lighter, cooler and more durable. Here is part of their description of the product that debuted at last year’s Rose Bowl:

The new uniform incorporates pinnacle performance innovation and design while providing enhanced thermoregulation and more durability with the inclusion of Nike Chain Maille Mesh – a lightweight ultra-breathable material – used in both the jersey and pant. Ducks

I figure each uniform costs Nike about $20 to manufacture. The Ducks list 100 players connected to the football team in some way or another. That means $2,000 just for one uniform. The Ducks play about 15 games each year so we’re talking $30,000 in total.

Another Ducks product is the Oregon Duck Lunar TR-1+ shoes with Win the Day and Duck logos on them. Each pair costs $235. The Nike Store sold out of the shoes online in just six minutes. I figure the shoes cost Nike $60 to make so let’s add another $6,000 for all the players and triple it ($18,000) assuming they need three pairs to get through the season. There may even be separate shoes for each game but I think my point is made.

The poverty line threshold in the U.S. ($23, 050 for a family of four) is, on a daily basis, about $16 per person per day. If my estimates are close, the cost to outfit the Duck football players for a year is about $48,000, double the poverty level for a family of four and enough to sustain 3,000 people for one day or about 8 people for one year. When you think about the extravagant spending on uniforms by the Ducks, you begin to understand that it reflects a society where glitz and glamour are valued over feeding the hungry -- not a pretty picture.

The Ducks are not alone. Last year the University of Maryland rolled out a uniform that appeared to be two in one (depending on which side you're looking at) with their state flag tribute digs. This year Notre Dame introduced an alternate “Shamrock Series” uniform that broke something that didn't need fixing. Then Michigan used the Cowboy Classic this month to trot out neon maize road uniforms; a Yahoo Sports writer called them “ ‘firefly goo’ that were about as subtle as a four-year-old's highlighter.”

In addition to the ethics of spending so much money while others go hungry every night is that college sports /players are role models for younger kids. Now we see some high school football programs mimicking Oregon’s multiple-uniform approach.

Central High School in Knoxville Tennessee is one example. They settled for only two jerseys and one pair of pants from the manufacturer, Under Armour. The Bobcats also went with the trendy flat-black, no-shine helmets from Riddell. The coach is quoted as saying: "I came up with a couple of ideas that I liked, and we asked the kids. They're always going to give you their opinions on what looks good and what doesn't."

A mid-grade helmet costs $200-250 but can go as high as $325-350. A stock Under Armour jersey retails for $50. Team dealers can offer jersey discounts. But factor in printing costs and any deviations from the basic stock style, a jersey can surpass $100 per player.

Here are some more disturbing facts about poverty that make the lavish uniform situation all –the-more troubling. About half of all American children will receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at some point before age 20. Among African-American children, 90 percent will enroll in SNAP before age 20.

This has gotten out of hand. What message are we sending to our youth when we squander badly needed resources in the name of “looking good” while playing a game that makes you look dirty?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 19, 2012