‘Coal mines and goal lines’?

September 2, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

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:

You can listen to Nike’s new ad for the uniforms here, and this is the text of the voice-over:

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.

Biggers opined:

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.

Biggers continued:

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.

29 Responses to “‘Coal mines and goal lines’?”

  1. Concerned Miner says:


    With all disrespect due to Mr Biggers, what gives him the right to say that the Nike ad showing a surface mine disrespects the coal miners. He needs to understand one thing…we are all coal miners plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if you work underground or on the surface you were heart broken and sad after the UBB explosion, but just as we do every day we were up at 4:00 AM the next morning and back at our jobs because that is what we do.

    Personally I think the Nike ad is silly and tasteless, but until Mr. Biggers comes out and works a few shifts with us we really don’t need him speaking for us.

  2. Tod Lewark says:

    This is so disgusting that I want to send my WVU diploma back for a refund. What a total sell-out! I think the dead miners would rather have strict enforcement of new and existing safety regulations than an empty profiteering tribute Let’s pull up the astroturf and pave the field with coal ash. They have lost any moral claim to the name Mountaineers. Call the team the Miners, put them in coveralls and boots, and be honest about it. I say this as one who has worked in the coal industry.

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Concerned Miner,

    You may not know — and it may or may not matter to you — that Jeff Biggers comes from a coal-mining family from Illinois.

    In any event, I don’t believe Jeff was trying to speak FOR coal miners … he was simply saying that in HIS OPINION the add was disrespectful. He has that right to believe that, and you have a right to agree or disagree. But on Coal Tattoo, we try to give everybody their say — and I don’t believe that you have to have worked as a coal miner to discuss the issues affecting the coalfields.


  4. mlevans says:

    At first, I thought this ad was a joke. But, it is not a joke– it is an insult to WV, to coal miners, to our heritage, and to all those fighting to stop MTR and save their communities. I speak only for myself. NIKE PULL THIS AD.

  5. SantaFeMAC says:

    Is nothing sacred? The mountains which have helped shape our character and our souls are not even sacred so why should I be shocked at the sacrilege of our state university football team cladding itself in a uniform that supposedly honors our living and dead miners. This example of corporate opportunism and university pandering mocks not mourns our fallen miners.

    Shame on West Virginia University and shame on Nike.

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    By the way, a Coal Tattoo reader points out that some pretty significant issues about workplace injuries — brain damage — have been discussed recently regarding football players … here’s just one quick media bit from the NY Times on that:


    Not comparing it to coal mining deaths or injuries … but I would never want to downplay injuries or illnesses of any workers. Ken.

  7. Amtony says:

    This was not in quotes because it was not written, nor said anywhere by Nike;

    -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-

    It’s a lie to print that as truth. Don’t spread lies to get your point across Ken Ward Jr. It’s disgusting. Check your facts first.

  8. Ann Haynes says:

    Come on WVU…are you serious? Those uniforms are disgusting; not to mention the picture behind the promotion…looks like a tar pit. This is in no way a tribute to our deep miners…the ones that are loosing their jobs and their homes to surface mining…get real! Wake up WV!

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    You are correct that it was not in quotes in the HuffPost piece, but it is in italics on Coal Tattoo because I’m quoting directly from what Jeff Biggers wrote … I believe Jeff is interpreting the voiceover from the ads, which says:

    “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.”

    While it does not say the football players “put their lives on the line” it does say that they “put it all on the line”, and makes a clear comparison between what miners do — hard work — and the hard-working style of football that WVU is trying to promote.

    For the record, I’m a WVU graduate and a huge fan of the football team. And, in fact, I’ve always felt personally that WVU football is much like our state in many ways — in that we generally get little respect from the rest of the country for the hard work that is done here.


  10. mlevans says:

    Astounding what corporations will do to make a profit. I , too, am furious that NIKE and WVU are using the suffering of West Virginians to promote their products. I am a native West Virginian and I am sickened by the way we are used, mocked, and marginalized. I called NIKE and they are getting loads of protest calls. Everyone in WV should be upset, most of all the families of the dead miners who are being used to promote a company and a university. SHAME.

  11. Casey says:

    To me the message is that coal miners gets very little national respect for the important energy that they provide through their hard work in hazardous environments. I of course have no problem with that message but realize that those that hate coal do have a problem with seeking to show appreciation for coal miners.

    Certainly Nike is astute at marketing and by reminding people of the “29” this will help that safety improvements will be made in their memory. Everything is either mined or grown so let’s appreciate those that toil for our needs.

  12. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    I think if you re-read the Jeff Biggers post I cited, you will see that he has no problem with — and in fact encourages — recognizing the efforts of hard-working miners.

    You have to wonder why WVU would go along with mixing a tribute to the victims of the Upper Big Branch Disaster with the mountaintop removal issue — inviting just sort of controversy, and diverting from their stated goal here.


  13. Concerned Miner says:


    Have you noticed the comments on the AP story on the Gazette main page? There seems to be overwhelming support for the concept and the ad over there. Which do you think would most represent the general public’s opinion, comments on your blog or on main page? This is not a loaded question, I truly don’t know, but seems odd to me how different the comments are.

  14. Taylor says:

    Casey, you are mistaken; those of us who want to move beyond coal have no problem with coal miners being appreciated. But then I suspect you know that and you’re just trying to take a cheap shot.
    Secondly, folks, if you click on the link to the ad *now,* you’ll find that both the narrative and the written text have been changed.

  15. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Concerned Miner,

    I will admit to not paying much attention to counting comments one way or the other on either Coal Tattoo or on our regular Web site … I am more interested in the CONTENT of comments — do folks offer a well-reasoned, respectful comment or just slam folks they disagree with — than in counting which side wins.

    For example, I thought Casey generally made good points in his comment above about the lack of respect for coal miners and the work they do, though I think he wrongly suggested anti-MTR activists don’t want to recognize the hard work of miners. On the other hand, some of the comments opposed to the Nike ad so far on Coal Tattoo haven’t really offered much reasoning except that they found the ad offensive or digusting … I personally don’t find those comments add to the discussion as much as Casey’s did.

    Until recently, the regular Gazette Web site was far too much of the the nasty stuff. Hopefully, our new policy will change that.

    Online comments don’t really represent a scientific survey of public opinion, much like on-line polls.

    But because you asked, I did a quick check. At the time I looked, there were 10 published comments on the AP story on the Gazette site. Of those, four expressed clear support for the ads. The other six did not either support or oppose, and mostly didn’t really stay on topic.

    I haven’t checked to see if any comments either way were blocked because of our new comment policy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some on both sides were.


  16. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Concerned Miner,

    I also looked at the comments on Coal Tattoo … as of now, there were 15 comments … five of those were my comments responding to readers; one was your comment asking about the comment ratio.

    Of the others, three appeared to support the ad and six appeared to oppose it –but two of those six were from the same person.


  17. Concerned Miner says:


    Thanks for the reply, I wasn’t really trying to keep score, just put myself in the shoes that if I knew nothing about the issue and were to read the public opinion comments at either place I would come away with completely different impressions on how the public felt about the ad. That’s usually not the case, just thought it was odd.

  18. Bo Webb says:

    I spoke to a Nike representative today. He had no clue about mountaintop removal. In my opinion the coal industry has intentionally used the deaths of our REAL underground Coal Miners as a way to place the image of mountaintop removal in the minds of the American people that mtr is the way coal miners mine coal. I totally disagree with a previous post that said people working on mtr sites are coal miners too. They are not coal miners. My Dad was a coal miner. The men at UBB were Coal Miners. This Nike ad even has explosions in the background and in the audio. The men that died at UBB died in an explosion. How insensitive of the coal industry to play a loud explosion in this ad.
    I believe truth is truth no matter how hard it may be able to accept. The coal industry is full aware that mountaintop removal is killing people, yet they continue the practice. We are breathing, actually being forced to breath air that contains explosive residue of diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate, silica from blasted sandstone rock, and God only knows what else. The coal industry is full aware, the WV DEP is full aware, the Fed EPA is full aware. Real people ARE dying because of MTR. How many studies must be made, how many people must die before we stop this insanity? I believe it is time to call mtr what it is. The coal industry continues to divert the issue by saying we are trying to put them out of business. I am not trying to put them out of business. I am trying to get them to stop killing us. We should all stop dancing around the real issue of why mtr should be stopped. It should be stopped because it is causing great harm, including death to real people. The biggest mistake we continue to make is that we assume we are debating reasonable people, but reasonable people would not be committing mtr. I believe that once reasonable people understand that whatever endeavor they are involved in is doing harm to another human being they will stop whatever it is they are doing that causes that harm. The refusal of the WV DEP and Gov. Manchin to acknowledge the human harm caused by mtr makes it necessary for me to speak out. Using the deaths of the men at UBB to promote mtr should disprove any notion anyone may have ever had that the coal industry cares about its workers and the communities beneath mtr sites.

  19. Vnxq809 says:

    I think it is a wonderful ad – my .02 cents….

    And Ken – as for Biggers you say he was “interpreting” Nike’s ad…..You should mean misinterpreting the ad……Sensationalism @ its best!……As you were quick to point it – the ad does not say that the miners are “putting their lives on the line”…..Big reach – Huge difference…..


  20. Vnxq809 says:

    I would also fathom a guess that if you took a poll of the fallen 29 UBB miners’ immediate family members that the overwhelming majority would be in favor of the ad…..

    Again – my .02 cents….


  21. Jason Robinson says:

    Vnxq809 that is at least a testable claim. Are you going to test your hypothesis? I would be very interested to see your results.

  22. Vnxq809 says:

    Not sure how to go @ it, Jason…….Maybe Mr. Ward could help with that….

    I’ll also say that the ad would have been a heckuva lot less controversial if they had just used a longwall face or some sort of stratigraphic column illustrating underground workings (a la Consol’s media campaign) or the like as the background….


  23. Casey says:

    I’m not sure of your definition of coal miners but having worked in deep mines and on surface mines, I classify all of these workers as coal miners. Their objective is the same, to safely and cost effectively produce coal and an environment that requires constant attention to hazards.

  24. Thomas Rodd says:

    Nike has not yet weathered the sweatshop storm and now they have embarked on a new adventure in controversy. I wondder if they have any offshore drilling uniform plans for LSU?

  25. Penny B. says:

    I wonder if we’re all not missing a bigger point in this debate – West Virginia’s image. I’m very proud of our miners and much of our coal heritiage. For better or worse, it helped shape our people. But, as someone who worked years in economic development, I know all too well that corporate folks outside of WV know very little about us – what they do know is largely a stereotype rooted in mining that often bears little resemblance to the truth.
    I think there are lots of ways to honor and respect the men who died at UBB without having the WVU football team wear special uniforms.
    We, as a state, continue to reinforce a stereotype that belies all we have to offer to the rest of the world. And, it often means that we never get a first look, let alone a second look, for alot of good-paying jobs.
    I think it’s time to re-think our approach.
    And, if Friends of Coal continues to get the opportunity to sponsor a football game, why can’t Friends of the Mountains? Who decides who can be part of a taxpayer-sponsored event?

  26. Greenspace says:

    This isn’t about mining, or football. It’s a marketing campaign for Nike. The more discussion, the more controversy, the better for Nike.


    I am a proud WV Coal miner. I think the Jersey’s bring great pride to us. It hurts me when people are talking trash about the Jersey’s because it actually makes people think about the job we do on a daily basis. I love the Jersey’s and love WVU. I give it all a 10. An for the ones who dont want coal mines, or hate Mountain Top Removal, move out of the country because more than 50% of electricity in the US is provided by us.

  28. Andrew says:

    The coal industry in WVa employs roughly 22,000 people.
    The population of WVa is approximately 1,800,000 people.
    Which begs the question: Should WVa be defined by coal?

    Certainly, all coal miners deserve our respect for their hard work in dangerous conditions, and it is both sad and outrageous that 44 workers this year are not coming home.
    But WVa is so much more than a controversial lump of black rock, and if Nike truly wants to pay tribute to lost miners, they should put in enough effort to recognize: explosions are in bad taste; the UBB 29 died underground, not in a strip mine in Montana (I’ve never seen an MTR mine that looked like that). Also, a black band on the arm is the traditional symbol of mourning for sports teams- the ’29’ on the back of the helmet looks like an afterthought.

    It seems clear to me that this is an advertising opportunity, and not a tribute, and it’s a shame that this is what the people see when WVa is in the spotlight.

  29. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    OK, folks … thanks for all the comments on this. We’re going to shut down this discussion for the weekend. Happy Labor Day and Go Mountaineers!