Honouring Our Veterans Via The Sports Uniform

Chelsea Poppy Jersey 2013

Today is Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and Canada, the 11th of November is a day set aside for paying respects and remembering those who fought to keep our nations free all those years ago.

While several teams in the United States (and even some in Canada) have announced they will be making note of the 11th with stars-and-stripe dominated helmet logos, all-over camouflage hockey jerseys, basketball flag socks, or as they did back on Memorial Day in baseball, all camo,  everywhere. In Britain they’re doing things a little more… tastefully?

Just a single poppy. That is all.

Aston Villa and Cardiff City players both wearing a poppy patch on their jerseys today
Aston Villa and Cardiff City players both wearing a poppy patch on their jerseys in 2013

For decades, normal everyday people living in the United Kingdom and Canada have worn the poppy on their shirts over their hearts for the first 11 days of November. I know here in Canada, if you’re outside in November and there’s people around, you’ll see poppies, and all money collected from the sale of these poppies go to the Royal Canadian Legion. It’s origins traced back to the poppy flowers which were spotted growing over the graves of fallen soldiers during the First World War, inspiring the famous “In Flanders Fields” poem. The sight of a poppy on someones shirt tells a vet “I’ll never forget what you did for us”.

Why should a professional sports team tribute be any different?

Chelsea and West Brom players wearing poppies today
Chelsea and West Brom players wearing poppies on Remembrance Sunday in 2013

Barclays Premier Club teams throughout the British Isles wear a poppy on their jerseys, and it’s not some templated poppy design placed in the same spot on every team mandated by the league, each team who’s participating is doing it on their own and their own way. What a novel way to approach such a thing.

They won’t be stopping the game midway through to sing a patriotic anthem, instead there’s pre-game ceremonies involving war veterans leading players out to the field followed by a moment of silence.

Manchester United wearing a poppy on jersey - November 7, 2015
Manchester United wearing a poppy on jersey – November 7, 2015

Chelsea and West Brom (among others) have in the past had volunteers from the various local legions stationed at all entrances near their respective stadiums this weekend collecting donations for veterans. Game worn jerseys are auctioned off, *all* proceeds going to various local charities involving war vets. An incredible effort to do their part.

Meanwhile back in North America…

Ottawa Senators Camouflage Jersey 2013-14
Ottawa Senators all-camo pre-game jersey from 2013, not worn during the actual game

“It’s Too Much.”

“It Looks Ridiculous.”

Are just a couple of the comments I regularly hear whenever a team or teams decide to honour the vets over here.

It’s hard to argue with them, it started out as subtle and much more honourable tributes but has quickly escalated to all-over camo or American flag patterns, with promos everywhere reminding everyone they’re available for sale on the official team site now. If there were operators involved with online shopping, they’d surely be “standing by!” ready to take our order for our own replica version of what the players are wearing.

Sure, a portion of sales goes to various veteran-related charities, but there’s been plenty of controversy over how much exactly “a portion” is and if it’s a portion of the profits or a portion of total sales.

Iowa UTSA Stars Stripes Helmets 2013
A sampling of some of the stars-and-stripes designs worn in NCAA football
Pittsburgh Pirates Memorial Day Camouflage 2013
Every MLB team went with the same camo caps and jersey wordmark designs on Memorial Day 2013
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Stars and stripes socks in the NBA for Veterans Day – November 2015

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be honouring our vets or raising funds for them, it’s just maybe there’s a better way to do it.

While the NHL is camo-clad pre-game, their in-game tributes in 2015 seem much more appropriate:

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USA Flag on New Jersey Devils helmet, 2015
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Poppy on Vancouver Canucks helmet, 2015

Or how Major League Baseball marked the anniversary of the September 11th attacks? Just an American flag on the side of the cap:

New York Yankees September 11 2013 Cap
On September 11th every MLB team wore a single US flag patch on their cap.

It’s not a lot, but it certainly said so much more.

Maybe we all just need to take a step back and remember who we’re honouring and what they fought for instead of looking at the potential dollar signs when thinking up these designs in 2016.

 

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Note: The bulk of the above post was originally written in 2013, it has been updated where appropriate for 2015