Back in 2002 the City of Newton, where I live, hired a new police chief named Jose Cordero. He had served for over twenty years as a police inspector in Queens, and had established a reputation for reducing robberies, burglaries, homicides, and other crimes. At his hiring, there were some who questioned whether he was the best fit for a City generally considered one of the safest in the country.
If Cordero’s name comes up these days, it is likely for one of two policies he put in place during his tenure. The first was requiring that officers meet quotas for issuing traffic citations. This became especially noticeable at the end of each month, when officers would spend most of their time staking out particular intersections in order to catch traffic scofflaws. Written warnings became a thing of the past, until the patrolmen eventually sued the Chief of Police to reverse the policy.
The other decision was to paint Newton’s entire fleet of police cars black. That decision also didn’t last long. After Cordero left (after a mere two-and-a-half years on the job), the City immediately appropriated the money to repaint the cars and restore their more genteel two-tone look. No one complained about the expense.
I was reminded of Cordero the other day when a piece of bulk email from USATF arrived in my Inbox. The email was advertising the availability of clothing from the new “Team USA Black Collection.” The look made its debut at this year’s inaugural World Relays where Team USA kicked, as they say, butt, and includes over thirty pieces of apparel — from singlets, to one-piece sprint suits, to throwers’ shirts, to underwear.
I don’t know if the idea is to make the USA team more intimidating or what, but I find the red, white, and black look depressing.
Not only that, it highlights what feels like a brand crisis for USA Track and Field. The governing body wants us to root for Team USA athletes, but it’s constantly changing their colors and patterns, making it difficult for this fan to pick them out of a lineup. I find myself yearning for a single, iconic, USA look that lasts longer than a two-year World Championships cycle.
Maybe having a stable national look wouldn’t have the merchandise possibilities, but wouldn’t it make the performances more memorable? I have such vivid memories of earlier generations of US athletes running in what I thought were stable uniform designs. But memories of the mostly red uniforms from the 2012 Olympics are unpleasant the way waking up from a bad dream is unpleasant.
During the world cup, I remember reading somewhere that it was a shame that the US uniforms were always changing. Think of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and you immediately can picture their players. The uniform look links teams from 2014 with previous teams, back generations. Think about the US team and you remember individual players, perhaps, but not the look of the team.
Does it matter? I don’t know. Maybe the real problem is that items from the new collection are so expensive (singlets for $225, shorts for $100). If they’re able to sell this stuff for that kind of money, I guess we’ll understand why the finances of USATF (and Nike) are solidly in the black.