The Politics of Sending Stanley Cup “Loser Gear” to the Developing World

You might notice something funny about the picture above – although they played in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, the Calgary Flames lost Game 7 and the Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning. But, of course, the NHL licensed official Flames championship gear in case the Flames did win the Stanley Cup. This is standard practice for many North American professional leagues, including the NHL – as players pull on official championship hats and t-shirts seconds after winning a Stanley Cup or Super Bowl, and fans rush out to snap up championship merchandise, distributors and manufacturers quietly pack up the “loser gear” that was produced in case the other team won the decisive game. In simple economic reasoning, the leagues and their distributors know that the profits to be made by having championship gear immediately available for sale far outweighs the cost of producing a separate set of merchandise that will never be sold.

So what happens to the “loser” gear? As a recent post at The Post Game explains, most often it is donated to international NGOs that distribute it in various developing countries around the world:

For World Vision International and a small number of other nonprofit groups, the gear that proclaims the wrong team champion is a windfall. The leagues can’t very well destroy thousands of perfectly good caps and shirts, sizes ranging from petite to double extra large. So they donate it to humanitarian organizations to hand out in developing nations.

“The clothing has been distributed in more than 100 countries, all over Africa, to Asian nations, to Latin America and Europe,” said Dean Owen, a World Vision executive. “It goes to places of the greatest need, definitely not to Sweden, but definitely to Zimbabwe.”

As with many micro-level issues in hockey, the charitable efforts of the NHL (and other sports leagues) must be situated in their broader sociopolitical context to be properly understood. At first glance, these donations appear to be a win-win: leagues such as the NHL offload useless and potentially embarrassing merchandise, and people living in poverty receive aid in the form of clothing. Sure, t-shirts and hats might not be as high priority as food or medicine, but it’s free and better than nothing, right?

Turns out it is not nearly that simple, and there are some compelling arguments as to why these donations of “loser gear” contribute toward some international aid practices that are very damaging to the economies of developing countries and the livelihoods of their citizens. As with most international development programs, there are two sides to the coin: after the jump I explore the arguments for and against this practice. Read more of this post

Hockey and Militarism: What’s the Connection and Why Does it Matter?

On September 6, at Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg, four members of the recently relocated Winnipeg Jets stepped out of a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) transport plane in the official unveiling of the team’s new jerseys. The choreographed spectacle, not to mention the RCAF-inspired logo that now adorns the Jets’ jerseys, made overt the ties between professional sport and the military—a relationship that has a long history in North America. The choice to link the new team with the Canadian Forces was polarizing, with some decrying the decision and many others supporting it. The Jets organization, meanwhile, pronounced it a tribute both to the RCAF and to the aviation heritage of Winnipeg.

The new Jets jersey, and the manner in which it was introduced, are but one example of the increasing intertwining of professional sports franchises in Canada and the United States with their respective national militaries. From the playing of God Bless America to “honour the troops” at MLB games to features on US military members during NFL broadcasts, one need not look very hard to find overt evidence of these links.

Why do such strong ties between professional sport and the military exist? How are these links popularly represented? What are the political and social implications of this relationship? These are all important questions that are asked far too infrequently in popular discussions about sport. And they are questions that, in the coming weeks, Hockey in Society will be exploring. While the broader spectrum of North American sport will certainly be considered, the specific focus will remain on hockey and the Canadian military.

I aim to explore this topic from a variety of angles to develop an understanding of how, why, and to what extent the institutions of sport and the military became enmeshed. While I have my own opinions on the matter, I am attempting to keep this investigation as balanced and open-ended as possible and to allow you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions from the research. My current plan is to present this exploration in five parts, all of which will hopefully be posted within a month or two. Here is the form I expect this project to take:

  • Part 1 – The history of militarism and hockey
  • Part 2 – The symbolic importance of nicknames and logos
  • Part 3 – The use of martial language in hockey
  • Part 4 – Hockey and Canadian militarism since 9/11
  • Part 5 – Why does the military-hockey relationship matter?