Football Fashion, Ethics, and Our Wasteful Consumption

The many fashion choices of the Oregon Ducks...and children are starving in Appalachia.

The many fashion choices of the Oregon Ducks…and children are starving in Appalachia.

On his excellent ethics blog, the Ethics Sage, a.k.a. Dr. Steven Mintz, recently expressed dismay at the increasing trend in college and high school football teams that has them changing uniform designs for no discernible reason, but at significant expense. Focusing on the multiple uniforms used over a season by the Oregon Ducks, he wrote:

“The poverty line threshold in the U.S. ($23,050 for a family of four) is, on a daily basis, about $16 per person per day. If my estimates are close, the cost to outfit the Duck football players for a year is about $48,000, double the poverty level for a family of four and enough to sustain 3,000 people for one day or about 8 people for one year. When you think about the extravagant spending on uniforms by the Ducks, you begin to understand that it reflects a society where glitz and glamor are valued over feeding the hungry — not a pretty picture”

I am not sure what to make of this argument. Is Mintz arguing that the Ducks are ethically obligated to send the money they spend on extravagant uniform diversity to the poor? Isn’t this really just the old “How dare you waste those perfectly good peas when children are starving in Ethiopia?” argument? Realistically , there is no way the university’s football uniform budget is going to be able to help feed the poor. Why pick on the Ducks? He goes on to write,

“…In addition to the ethics of spending so much money while others go hungry every night is that college sports /players are role models for younger kids….About half of all American children will receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at some point before age 20. Among African-American children, 90 percent will enroll in SNAP before age 20. This has gotten out of hand. What message are we sending to our youth when we squander badly needed resources in the name of “looking good” while playing a game that makes you look dirty?”

My quarrel with this  absurd expenditure is a bit more direct: why, in these days of soaring tuition and college loan costs, are schools wasting private and public money on rotating football uniforms? It is irresponsible and incompetent. The Ethics Sage’s complaint, however, seems to be in the dubious category of “my values are better than your values.” I’m sure he spends some of his money on pointless and trivial purchases; that money could be sent to poor kids too. He could live in a less expensive house, and why does he need more than one pair of shoes, or glasses? The difference between the cost of his car and a bicycle could feed a lot of hungry kids for a while. In the end, this becomes an argument for equally shared misery.

Let’s see: every year, according to various sources, Americans spend $96 billion on beer, and $550 million on pretzels, much of which accompanies that beer. We spend $4.14 billion on St. Patrick’s Day, the most pointless of all holidays, and $1.4 billion on teeth whiteners, among other vanity treatments. We spend $310 million on Halloween costumes for our pets, for God’s sake, which is damn sight more idiotic than changing football uniforms every game. We send $16.8 billion on bonnets, chocolate bunnies, colored eggs and other junk at Easter, and $10 billion on trashy romance novels with Fabio or equivalents on the covers. Then there is the yearly $11 billion on engagement rings, $1.7 billion for Valentine’s Day bouquets, 16 billion dollars on chocolate, and$4.2 billion on perfume. We waste $34.6 billion on gambling, and $2.3 billion on tattoos (plus $66 million removing them). We buy $500 million worth of  golf balls, spend $25.4 billion on professional sports, and throw $33.9 billion at phony medical treatments. Here’s a useful expenditure: $5 billion (worldwide) on ringtones. Then we fork over $18 billion annually because we won’t pay our credit card bills on time, $40 billion for  lawn care, and, at least up until Hostess went belly-up last month, spend  $500 billion to stuff our faces with Twinkies.

What message does all this send? It sends the message that there is more to life than work, worry, death and taxes; that we spend some of the money we work hard to make to look good, feel good, and have fun, and that’s one of the reasons we work hard in the first place. Yes, it’s the American way. I think your tattoo is a waste of money, but that Valentine’s bouquet last year paid for itself, let me tell you. Your waste is my joy. Stay out of my face.

There is no doubt about it: all of us have a moral and ethical obligation to try to help those who are unable to take care of themselves, but that obligation need not come at the forfeiture of life’s pleasures, great, small, trivial, eccentric or stupid, nor should we feel guilty about how we each choose to enjoy our lives The gap between those who have extra resources to waste and those who lack what they need for the necessities of life is long-standing, frustrating and infuriating, and with the luxury of frivolous consumption comes the responsibility of doing our share to try to lessen the pain of others.  I believe, however, that one of the messages consumption sends to our youth is that it is better and wiser to make life decisions that lead to the option of personally satisfying purchases than to rely on others to feed us.

In any case, I think too many football uniforms is among the least of our society’s transgressions, as wasteful as it is, and in the end, it’s about fun and games. Those are an important part of life, and there is nothing unethical about fun. No, not even if everyone isn’t having any.


Source and Graphic: Ethics Sage


16 thoughts on “Football Fashion, Ethics, and Our Wasteful Consumption

  1. Funny thing about the circular nature of money.

    It doesn’t disappear. Of the $96 billion that went to beer, part of that was spent by the beer makers to go to the $550 million in pretzels and to the $40 billion in lawncare. Of that $550 mil and $40 bil taken in by Pretzel makers and Lawn mowers….they spent it on golf balls, perfume, bouquets, oh and guess what? also on beer.

    Anyone who is too blind to see that all that money goes to pay people in jobs that other people VALUE, are also too blind to see that if that money wasn’t going to those industries, the 1000s of people EMPLOYED by those industries would be the very same homeless, hungry, starving people that are bemoaned for not receiving money that is notionally ‘wasted’ on other industries.

    Oh and the other cool thing about our free market system is history has shown, the freer the market the more people tend to generously give to the needy.

    I’m not poor because someone GIVES me over $50,000 a year. Guess what? I give him over $50,000 worth of value every year in return.

    It is how the system works, it has ‘unfair’ points to it, but it is the most fair system we humans can come up with.

  2. All of this neer-do-well reaction to American material success is a bunch of nay-sayers who whine and moan because they don’t like that the American system of INDIVIDUAL enterprise and initiative is a constant and unassailable attack on what they think ought to be successful – State centered civilization.

    They moan and moan because history is replete with centralized economic systems increasing misery and poverty. So their best effort is to find the exceedingly miniscule examples of poverty in a free market, individual-oriented economy and cry “FOUL!”

    Here’s an idea, instead of bemoaning our system as unfair and desiring to bring it down to the level of other miserable systems. How about becoming aggressive missionaries of our system and try to bring other systems UP to our level?

    Quit boo-hooing that our system is SO successful, that companies can afford to change uniforms.

    • My only objection to this extravagance in football uniforms is not that (by Marxist definitions) it takes bread out of the mouths of the needy, but that it needlessly takes money out of the pockets of the taxpayers. The University of Oregon is a state school. Maybe a little austerity in the athletic programs- along with the elimination of frivolous electives and deadbeat professors/adminstrators- might lessen the burden and the tuition costs. That won’t happen, of course. Not in Oregon!

  3. College football teams, least of all the Nike lab that is Oregon, don’t pay for these extravagances. The manufacturer gives the uniform to the school in exchange for the advertising and modeling (and, in Nike/Oregon’s case, the use of the team as Guinea pigs for fabric experiments). If anything, these uniforms are the result of a model public-private partnership.

    • Amendment: an argument could be made that the leadership at Oregon has an ethical obligation to decline some of this as a stand against the arms race of modern college football. I won’t make it, but it can be made.

      • Maybe. But if some minor sponsorship produces (needed!) new uniforms at the expense of of noted sporting goods firm- and not from the taxpayers- that seems a fair deal. It’s getting out of hand, though. Last October, I attended my high school’s homecoming game. I was unsurprised to see the same sponsors on the scoreboard (after 40 years, too!), but when they started doing commercials from the announcer during halftime, I was a little startled. Showing a little good taste has to be part of school athletics as well.

    • Aside from the lack of cost, new uniforms yields to more people purchasing uniforms, with some of the money going back to the schools. It’s fiscally responsible to change uniforms.

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