While we were waiting for some technical problems with the Gazette’s blogs to be ironed out, West Virginia University announced yesterday:
West Virginia and Pittsburgh have squared off in the Backyard Brawl 102 times. This year, the passion is the same but the uniforms are strikingly different. On Nov. 26, the Mountaineers will suit up in the Nike Pro Combat System of Dress. The special rivalry-day uniform pays respect to the 29 lives lost in the devastating explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine last April.
In West Virginia, coal mining is a way of life. So is football. With this in mind, Nike designers brought inspiration from the mines above ground to the gridiron. Tribute to the hard-knocks industry is evident throughout the uniform.
As the away team at this year’s Brawl, the Mountaineers will be clad in a shade of White that looks as if it has a fine layer of coal dust on the surface. Powerful block numbers on the jersey are rendered in a smudged Black. The same effect is used as an allover pattern on the Pro Combat base layer, and within a band placed at the back of the waist and down the sides of both pant legs.
Accents come in University Gold, a hue that references the canaries used long ago to test toxicity in mines. The Mountaineers’ helmet also is cast in smudged Black, with a thin yellow line running from front to back.
The line represents the beam of light emitted by a miner’s headlamp, and a graphic with the number 29 honors the perished miners at Upper Big Branch. The smudge effect carries over to the gloves, which read WV when the palms face outward. Lined in yellow, “Leave no doubt” is printed on the inside cuff.
Basketball coach Bobby Huggins introduced the special uniforms:
Every day, the coal miners of West Virginia put it on the line for their families. That’s why every Saturday in the fall, the Mountaineer football team is willing to put it all on the line for them, with a never-say-die attitude and toughness you have to live to understand.
It’s just the way things are done in West Virginia — hard work and determination.
We’ve seen minor controversies before over WVU’s close ties and blatant promotion of the coal industry, including the fairly recent dust-up over the creation of a chair in the university’s engineering school in honor of coal operator Bob Murray of Crandall Canyon Mine Disaster fame. WVU President James Clements initially refused to discuss this matter, and then agreed to start a discussion on campus about the rules for such corporate donations — only after a group of students protested donations by Murray and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
Now, author and Huffington Post commentator Jeff Biggers is calling on Nike to pull these new coal-uniform ads in a blog post headlined, Scandal of the Week: Nike Runs Mountaintop Removal Football Ad, Disrespects Coal Miners.
Instead of featuring underground miners, such as those who died at the Upper Big Branch disaster, Nike features an open strip mine with a dramatic voice over: “It’s just the way things are done in West Virginia.”
It gets even worse.
In an act of total disrespect, Nike claims the West Virginia University football players put their lives on the line every day, just like coal miners.
What? Over 104,000 coal miners have died in disasters and accidents in our mines; over 10,000 coal miners still die each decade from black lung.
How many football players die?
Moreover, Biggers writes:
Before buying into this sickening pander to Big Coal, WVU should read the studies of its own professors. Last year, a WVU study found that “coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits.”
Instead of honoring fallen coal miners, WVU is already accepting blood money from Big Coal barons Murray and Massey–the companies responsible for the Crandall Canyon disaster and the Upper Big Branch disaster.
Nike needs to pull the ads. More importantly, the company owes the mountaineers and coal miners more respect—if not a contribution, as their company representative claimed last week, toward a clean energy future.