Today, the Nike athletic company was strong armed by an environmentalist organization into altering a graphic of the new Pro Combat football uniforms it had designed for the West Virginia University Mountaineer football team.
Display ads for the uniforms had sought to honor the state’s coal mining heritage by picturing a player in the new uniform standing on football turf, but surrounded by what was obviously a mountaintop coal mining operation in the background. Unfortunately, a group of radical anti-mountaintop mining advocates launched an unfortunate online media attack on Nike, the university, and one of the state’s most important economic industries, dragging down the good name of both the university and the Mountaineer football team.
Earlier in the week, Nike had unveiled its 2010 Pro Combat college football gear line, giving ten schools the opportunity to wear specialized football uniforms for the biggest games on their schedules. In November, WVU will suit up in their Pro Combat gear for the annual Backyard Brawl with the University of Pittsburgh, a series that began in 1895 and this year will see the 103rd meeting between the two schools.
By now, most of the WVU faithful have seen the uniform design, featuring charcoal colored helmets sporting the flying WV logo on both sides and featuring a gold stripe down the middle dotted with a tiny flying WV logo in the center. The helmets also display the number 29 on the back, and the uniforms themselves are white jerseys and white pants “smudged” with charcoal gray and trimmed with black and a thin yellow line throughout.
As much as the eye popping fashion design of the Pro Combat uniforms might excite the Mountaineer faithful, it’s the story behind the design that speaks volumes to Mountaineer fans and alumni around the state and the nation.
The charcoal smudging of the uniforms is representative of the coal dust which has covered generations of miners at the end of a long day spent in the West Virginia mines, and the gold stripe down the middle of the helmet signifies the lamps worn on the heads of these miners, the loan beacon of light in an otherwise pitch black underground world.
And finally, the number 29-representing the 29 miners who last spring perished in what was just the most recent in a long line of mining tragedies for the state. Along with the memories of Upper Big Branch, the number 29 also pays tribute to the families and loved ones that have known the tragedy of Sago and Farmington and the other unfortunate accidents that have befallen a state whose greatest natural resource is also its most dangerous to harvest.
Next Saturday West Virginia University will face off against Marshall University in the annual Friends of Coal Bowl. An event designed to bring together the fans and alumni of the two largest schools in the state, foster rivalry as well as camaraderie, and to recognize an industry that has been the state’s economic backbone for generations.
West Virginia is without a professional sports team, and while Marshall has had its moments, it is more often than not, the Blue and Gold that West Virginians are following on game day and throughout the college football season. For many West Virginia children who dream about playing football, the players who suit up on Saturdays in Morgantown are the stuff of legends, even more so than the ones they might see on TV on Sunday.
The Mountaineer football team is a source of pride to the university, the students, the alumni, and the state. After Saturday’s season opener against Coastal Carolina, the Mountaineers will head south to Huntington next week to take on the Thundering Herd. And as the excitement builds around the state and the media buzz begins, one can only hope that those who don’t understand the hard work, the memories, the blood, the sweat, and the tears they have demonized this past week, will not look to capitalize on another opportunity to garner media attention in the hopes of furthering their own agenda. One can only hope that they’ll sit quietly and let football be football, and allow West Virginians to be proud-Mountaineer proud.
After all, this is not about politics, it’s about pride-West Virginia Mountaineer pride.