Nike Pro Combat Uniforms and the War on Battlefield Fashion

As evidenced by the video above, you have to admire any college football program willing to adorn themselves in the flag of their state… or maybe you don’t.

With the kickoff of college football season this past weekend comes part of a new tradition.  It’s not a new stadium or a new class of freshmen taking the field.  Instead, much has been made over the Nike Pro Combat system uniforms employed by many top-tier programs.

I knew Georgia and Boise State’s duds looked a bit beyond the norm when tuning into their game.  It wasn’t until the ESPN announcer–out of advertorial obligation or deference to his audience–rammed the “Nike Pro Combat” brand into his shtick as teams took the field that I had any clue these were “special” vestments.   Some would say the uniforms resemble various superheroes.  Other’s might say they simply look dumb and overthought. Peep the designs and decide for yourself.

Nike, probably more so than most companies, is quite good at the hype machine.  For instance:

…which teams will be sporting the next-generation battle gear when they storm out of the tunnel come gameday. It’s a buzz that lasts from opening weekend through the National Championship game, and this year’s lineup is guaranteed to bring it.

What’s interesting, though, is the use of battle rhetoric in regard to the slate-labor trade amateur sport of college football.  Battle, combat, victory, defeat, field general, and more are common terms in application to college football.  Butterworth and Moskal offer their take on the fusion of visual, written, and spoken rhetoric in college football in their 2009 article “American Football, Flags, and “Fun”: The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl and the Rhetorical Production of Militarism.”  For your edification, here’s the abstract:

The Armed Forces Bowl provides a troubling integration of commercial sport and the American culture of militarism. The game features patriotic displays and symbols that have become increasingly central to sporting events during the `war on terror,’ represents the first time a military manufacturer has been the official sponsor of a college bowl game, and depends on a ubiquitous rhetoric of “support the troops.” By expanding the familiar conflation of sport and war, the Armed Forces Bowl simultaneously trivializes the seriousness of war as it emphasizes the seriousness of supporting the American military. This rhetorical division offers a delimited conception of appropriate American identity, thereby normalizing war in general and endorsing the `war on terror’ specifically.

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching in a matter of days, Butterworth and Moska’s article has an strong resonance when compared to the hype around Nike’s product.

My Hilltoppers will avoid controversy and simply enjoy their Russell Athletic throwback-inspired gear.