Ralph Lauren had the U.S. Olympic Opening Ceremony uniforms made in China. So now there's another thing we have to worry about.
The discussion is going back and forth relentlessly. Many Americans are outraged, including political officials, because, well, they're political officials, and this is an issue of national pride. Sort of.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that he was "so upset." He said the Olympic Committee "should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again." That seems a little extreme, and, of course, it is — in fact it's absurd — but he's not alone in his sentiments. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi was quoted saying, in a more sane manner, that the athletes "should be wearing uniforms that are made in America," and House Speaker John Boehner said, "You'd think (the Olympic Committee would) know better."
On the other hand, Mitt Romney — clearly trying to avoid future criticism from either side of the debate, but coming off as a sensible human being — called the whole thing "extraneous." Thank you, Mitt Romney.
Ralph Lauren knows they messed up; they've already released a statement saying they have "committed to producing the Opening and Closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games." There's really no sense in bashing the company like this. How is that in the spirit of national camaraderie surrounding the Olympic Games? And Ralph Lauren is, without a doubt, a quintessentially American brand.
On the other side of the debate are the people who don't see anything wrong with Ralph Lauren outsourcing the uniforms to China. They believe Ralph Lauren has nothing to apologize for, that this whole thing is silly. A lot of people agree with that, but many of them are using the wrong arguments.
Forbes contributor Micheline Maynard wrote, "... politics aside, Lauren doesn't need to back down. It's a $6.9 billion company, which earned $691 million last year, for a 24 percent increase per diluted share, and it has paid millions of dollars in American taxes." She quoted the Wall Street Journal, which said, "Someone should tell these folks that if you want to have exports, you also have to have imports." Well, if you're going to put politics aside, put economics aside, too. I think the whole imports/exports argument is missing the forest for the trees. Yeah, we get it, you have to have imports. But that's not the point. The point is, it's the Olympics. How are you going to tell swimmer Ryan Lochte that the uniform he wore in the Opening Ceremony was made by the guy he swam against? (OK, it wasn't THAT guy, but maybe that guy knows the guy.)
You can have your imports. I'm fine with manufacturing companies importing American flag toys and little Uncle Sam dolls — seeing the "made in China" imprint on everything American, a reminder of our dependency — because a kid wearing a Ralph Lauren Fourth of July T-shirt isn't going to lace up his skates against a Chinese kid down the street in a symbolic show of national dominance. We're just not concerned with this intercontinental irony most of the time. That's fine. It's just not fine in the Olympic Games, when we're competing against the countries we trade with.
I keep reading about how we've consistently voted for cheap imported clothing over more expensive domestic clothing, and how this has caused textile mills in the U.S. to close. A USA Today editorial regarding this uniform issue said, "Countering this trend would be all but impossible. Punitive tariffs on textile imports would have disastrous consequences on the whole economy as other countries retaliated against American-made goods."
What? It's a few uniforms, not a wholesale change in economic policy. If it were really that drastic, it wouldn't have been so easy for Ralph Lauren to promise American-made uniforms for the next Olympics.
But it's easy to see where the people who are upset are coming from. It should be common sense. I still believe that, really, this whole thing shouldn't have been as big a deal as it has become, but I guess for the one event every four (or two) years where the top athletes compete for — and the spectators cheer for — not themselves, not their team, but the homeland written across their chest, yeah, it would've been nice to have had our uniforms made in the U.S. And we could've done without the French-looking berets, too.
— Robbie Hargett is a graduate in English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org