It’s one of the defining scenes in the movie “Miracle,” when U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks imparts a lesson about subjugating individual agendas to the good of the whole team.
Steam is practically pouring from Brooks’ ears after his players have gone through the motions in a pre-Olympic game. If you don’t want to work during the games, he tells them, then you will work after them.
A painful and exhausting skating drill, punctuated with whistle blasts, continues even after the arena lights go dark.
“Who do you play for?” Brooks finally asks.
Mike Eruzione, bent over and struggling to summon his breath, barely gets the answer out.
The lesson: The “USA” on the front of the jersey must come before the name on the back – that of an individual player.
I thought about this scene recently when my family made a pilgrimage to Lake Placid, N.Y., on our way home from Montreal. It was in 1980 on the ice at what is now Herb Brooks Arena where Team USA shocked the heavily favored Soviet Union and went on to win a gold medal.
It’s arguably the greatest U.S. sports moment of the 20th century, maybe ever, achieved as it was by a team of unknown and unheralded college players. It buoyed American spirits at a time of high inflation and high unemployment.
The Olympic Center (comprising Herb Brooks Arena and two other ice sheets) and the Lake Placid Olympic Museum are on Main Street. At the front counter, you can purchase a plastic gold medal for $10.
The greater irony is found in the gift shop, where the Miracle on Ice gives way to the mirage of U.S. pride.
You’ll find USA on the front of T-shirts and other apparel, to be sure. But the tags in the collars tell of different places.
Made in Mexico.
Made in Honduras.
Made in China. China!
I get that the world has changed a lot in 34 years; it is a global economy. We’re youth hockey veterans in our family, so I know that, sadly, most of the equipment is made in Asia.
But it’s a different story – or should be – when you appeal to my patriotism, and in of all places Lake Placid.
Licensed by USA Hockey
The tag on the Chinese-made garment identified it as a licensed product of USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body. When I got home, I sent an email to Gretchen Hursh, manager, licensing and merchandising for USA Hockey.
“I wonder whether USA Hockey has given any thought to doing more to source U.S.-made T-shirts and other products that it sells,” I wrote.
My note was passed on to Dave Fischer, senior director, communications.
“Pertinent to sourcing T-shirts, that is something we aren’t involved with,” he wrote. “Instead, we license use of our marks to vendors and utilize the revenue to help the continued growth and advancement of hockey in our country.”
It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but it is the answer I expected. It saddens and even angers me. It’s a cop-out.
USA Hockey simply could require that its licensees source products made in the United States. The domestic textile industry isn’t what it used to be, but there still are companies putting Americans to work making T-shirts.
Because if you slap USA on a shirt that’s made in China, well, that tells me the name on the front doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot.