Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Boltgirl v. US Soccer, Part Deux

My e-mail to the US Soccer store, after finding plenty of cutesy pink spaghetti-strap tank tops but no basic red-white-blue non-gender-specific t-shirts:

I have a bit of a beef with the fact that the WNT shirts offered by US Soccer are available only in a "women's" cut. The immediate concern is that the shirts don't work for every body type. I'm athletic, naturally broad-shouldered and small-chested, and I lift weights. So even a women's XL doesn't work for my shoulders and back, and the girly design with those little cap sleeves and tapered waist wouldn't appeal to me even if I could fit into it. Why is the Fed not offering normal unisex shirts? I look around at the players on my women's team, and I rarely see any of them wearing women-specific shirts of any kind (and I should point out that 2/3 of them are straight, so it ain't an orientation thing).

The bigger-picture concern is that US Soccer has adopted a gender-segregated marketing plan for the national teams, assuming that no men will support the WNT to the extent of buying a shirt (or aren't secure enough in their gender identities to be caught dead in a Wambach shirt), while it's "okay" for a woman supporter of the MNT to wear a MNT or Donovan shirt. By eliminating the option of that most American form of team support (the holy t-shirt), the Fed is effectively discouraging men and boys from getting deeply invested with the WNT and reinforcing the stereotype that only women should be interested in women's sports. Why do you think the WNT is "the best team you never heard of?" Maybe because they've been marketed to a very narrow demographic (let's admit it--the traditionally feminine segment of the female population) since the Founders retired?

Anyway. My (and most of my teammates') refusal to buy any WNT or WWC gear isn't due to a lack of enthusiasm for my country or my game. It's because I can't comfortably wear anything currently being offered anywhere online. Sell some unisex shirts and I'll buy them, and I'd wager that a lot of the dads of all those feminine little girls US Soccer has decided to focus on would buy them too. I love this team and would gladly buy a Wambach shirt for every day of the week if it came in men's M or L.

Thank you for your time.

I got a response last night:
Thank you for your recent email to the U.S. Soccer Store. We appreciate your feedback and your continued support of the Women's National Team.

We have noted your comments regarding the cut of the WNT t-shirts. We will also pass them on to NIKE. As our official apparel partner, we work closely with them on all the gear we sell. Further, we rely on their recommendations as far as styles, cuts, sizing, colors, etc. when making decisionsas to what will be popular with our fans.

Your feedback is valuable though and we will keep it in mind as we work with NIKE on future products.

Should you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at 312-528-1264.

Best regards,
Mike Gressle

I'm tempted to write to Nike to ask if Abby Wambach (whom they sponsor) can even fit into one of their Wambach shirts; the woman is built, as commenter truth pointed out, like an armoire.

The obvious solution, which I'm betting will be suggested by Nike, is to just buy men's national team gear just like men are expected to do, because we're all on the same team, right? Except that we're not. When I do that, who is credited for the sale? The men's team. And how is TV time and general support allocated? Why, by fan interest. And how is that calculated? By the almighty dollar.

Lest I come off as a shirt-obsessed freakshow (whaaaaat?) who believes that her purchases and hers alone will make a ripple at more than the molecular level, it's the principle here. The roster of the women's team is more diverse than it has been at any point in the past, with a relatively substantial number of players who are (1) non-Anglo, (2) non-straight, and (3) not conventionally feminine (even the straight ones); it's not the Ponytail Posse writ large any more. While the Fed is not keeping the unconventional players under wraps by any means, the bulk of the coverage is limited to online videos that are very occasionally shown on Fox Soccer Channel, which doesn't reach a hell of a lot of American households. When it comes to ESPN-televised game time, we get the usual features on who's recently married or engaged, who had an interesting childhood, and who just had a baby--a marketing plan straight out of 1999.

In that sense, maybe Natasha Kai is a godsend. As much as I dislike her immaturely inconsistent and selfish play on the field (she'll be good when she grows up, assuming she ever grows up), she brings the freak like no WNT player before her, and it will be impossible for the Fed to ignore her and her tattoos and piercings forever. Even if they give the parents of 12-year-old Bible Belt players the vapors. And if the Fed is reluctantly dragged into the 21st century, maybe they'll start acknowledging the fans who are interested in more than just the next pretty smile to grace the TV.


Anonymous said...

How about US Soccer start relying on what THEIR FANS tell them THEY WANT rather than Nike telling them what they think we want.
Great letter Bolt, you go girl!!
It’s not just the broad shouldered women who are often left out. Any cup size over a large c and it looks like your packing a tabby cat under the jersey. I never buy Nike shirts for the fact that apparently big breasted women don’t qualify for women’s apparel or sports bras. I also cannot fit in their shoes (too narrow for me feet). I stick to Addidas, Under Armor, and champion.

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