By Jackson Santy ’13
This year the football team received new equipment adorned with the prestigious “UA” of the Under Armour logo.
An article in the October issue of The Roundup reported on the recent Under Armour uniform deal.
Interviews with athletes and coaches alike showed excitement and celebration over the custom-fitted, bright jerseys.
However, these jerseys may be a bit too blinding.
It was three years ago that we covered the topic of globalization at the annual Summit on Human Dignity.
Students and faculty learned about various labor injustices throughout our world.
One presentation in particular was keynote speaker Jim Keady and his organization “Team Sweat.” Team Sweat is a non-profit dedicated to ending sweatshop labor, particularly with Nike.
After the presentation, many students hopped on the cause, ruing the day they decided to buy a pair of Nike produced Air Max’s.
Then, so many students recognized that what Nike by treating foreign employees unjustly was doing was outrageous. But now that we’ve received these pretty uniforms from a company with similar ethics to Nike, we fail to see a problem—and the irony.
Prior to the sponsorship, Athletic Director Mr. John Chambers and various administrators gathered to discuss the Under Armour offer.
“We talked about it in the sense that we turned down Nike,” Mr. Chambers said. “Under Armour had most of their work done in Texas. We along with Mr. (Bob) Ryan agreed that it would be okay to have the Under Armour contract.”
I appreciate that school administrators gave the matter consideration, but I’m not convinced UA is much better than Nike.
“As You Sow,” a corporate responsibility group, recently published a report on apparel supply chain compliance and the integrity of their manufacturing units, including fair working conditions among other criteria.
The report entitled “Toward a Safe, Just Workplace: Apparel Supply Chain Compliance Programs” provides comparable data to evaluate the corporate social responsibility programs of major U.S. apparel companies.
The highest grade on the chart was a B+, awarded to both Levi Strauss & Company and Wal-Mart.
Quite a ways down the chart was Under Armour, sitting with the lowest given grade, a C-.
Along with these statistics, this past May students from the University of Missouri through the organization United Students Against Sweatshops began protests against the unfair labor practices of several companies, including Under Armour.
This does not sit well with me and it shouldn’t sit well with athletes, coaches, students and administration.
During the meetings with the athletic department and administration, Principal Mr. Bob Ryan had a significant say during the sponsorship decision.
“This is something I feel strongly about; I used to teach Gospels in Action and work in the Office of Faith and Justice so I really feel strongly about the issue of apparel and sweatshop labor,” Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Ryan said a key thing to note is that Brophy doesn’t have any agreement with Under Armour; rather, Under Armour is outfitting the football team because they provided a better deal compared to other apparel companies (with the same or similar ethical standards).
This is different than saying that the school is entering an exclusive agreement with a manufacturer.
“What it comes down to is, we are not going to sign any institutional agreement with an apparel manufacturer,” Mr. Ryan said. “Because for me the distinction is that we’re not going to say that Brophy is institutionally aligned with Nike or Adidas or Under Armour or any other apparel manufacturer, because that then says to me that that’s an institutional agreement.”
“What I said to coaches was that I encourage them to have conversations with their assistant coaches and players about which apparel manufacturers they want to support,” Mr. Ryan added. “The reality though is that when you really dig into it, which we did, there isn’t much of a distinction between Nike and Under Armour or any of the other major apparel manufacturers.”
These athletes, coaches, students and administration are not bad people and are not deliberately supporting sweatshop labor. I’m not suggesting that we boycott the football games or collectively burn heaps of jerseys.
Nor am I suggesting we drop Under Armour as a uniform provider.
There may not be a better alternative. There just is not sustainably and ethically produced sports apparel like that of Tom’s Shoes.
Frankly, until that situation improves we just have to deal with it.
“Teams need to wear uniforms, whether they’re wearing uniforms made by Nike or Under Armour or Adidas or anything like that, they’re wearing those uniforms,” Mr. Ryan said. “If they can work something out with those manufactures, if it gets them a better deal then I’m in support of that and that’s effectively what happened with Under Armour.”
The most important thing for students to get out of this is that this sponsorship doesn’t label us as anything.
“A school like University of Oregon is a ‘Nike School,’ and they’re known as that and we are not a Nike school or an Adidas school or an Under Armour school, we’re a Jesuit school,” Mr. Ryan said. “We’re a Jesuit school that has an athletic program with athletic teams that have uniforms. Our approach has been that we leave it up to the individual coaches within a budget they’re given, to go out and find uniforms that make the best sense for their teams.”
Brophy students have stood together in wake of social justice causes around the school and the world before and there is no doubt that they can do it again.
Students, players, coaches and fans should reach out to Under Armour and voice their discontentment with their ethics. Tell them their employees deserve better.
Seeing a need for change, taking a stand and making a difference is what makes us a Jesuit school.