In some parts of Africa, the Chicago Bears won the 2007 Super Bowl, and the Colorado Rockies, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Cleveland Indians all won the 2007 World Series. It’s true! I read it in the newspaper.

And it’s funny, because for years, internationally minded folks have criticized major-league baseball for calling a purely North American contest the World Series. What are they going to say now that kids in Ghana or Zambia can wear t-shirts and caps advertising teams that won the series in alternate universes? Dreams that were thwarted here still shimmer with potential in the African sun.

Where did all this apparel come from? It’s made in preparation for one of the simplest but most powerful rituals in the entire ceremonial year of an American athletic association: the donning of new costumes proclaiming the superior medicine power of the championship team.

“The moment of a clinch, the teams celebrate. They pile on top of one another, they get all crazy, and part of that celebration is, in fact, them proclaiming their championship clinch with a T-shirt and a cap,” explains Steve Armus, MLB’s vice president of consumer products. “It’s something that’s traditional in baseball and some other sports, and for all the teams it’s an important moment.”

The centuries-old tradition that governs Euro-American sporting contests prevents more than one team from performing this ritual in a given year, due to a superstitious belief in something called the Law of the Excluded Middle. So to preserve the purity and efficacy of the sport, the ritual garments prepared for the other teams must either be destroyed or shipped to Africa, which has in recent years become a major destination for global waste and hand-me-downs. A Christian aid group called World Vision collects, ships and hands out the apparel. Isn’t it inspiring that missionaries still take such a strong interest in seeing that the bodies of brown-skinned people are kept properly covered? And the manufacturers get a tax credit instead of simply taking a loss. It’s just like the Special Olympics: everyone’s a winner! Even the Cleveland Indians.

8 Replies to “Win-win”

  1. Awesome post, Dave.

    Some years ago, on my first trip to Ghana, Ethan took me past the Obruni Wao (or Obruni Wa Wu) Market — the name means “The White Man is Dead,” and it’s popularly-understood that the clothing sold at the market comes from, well, dead white people overseas. *g*

    I pointed E toward this post, and he noted that this stuff probably sells for a premium, inasmuch as the brands are well-known and the merchandise is pristine…

  2. Wait, you mean they resell this stuff on the … black market?! Wow, this really is win-win!

    The White Man is Dead would make a great title for something, I’m not sure what.

  3. This reminds me of when I visited the Former Yugoslav Republic of Makedonia in 1992. Everywhere we went — in the flea markets, on the streets — we ran into people wearing University of Northern Arizona t-shirts. To this day, I haven’t been able to fathom the reason for this.

  4. Don’t get me started on the rag trade. The shipping out of cast-off or unwanted garments to “the poor” completely fucks the local textile and garment trades in the “lucky” recipient countries. And often the garments are donated free and then sold on by unscrupulous clothes collectors making money out of the misplaced generosity of the ill-informed “first world”.

    Um. Yes. That’s it. There’s more information on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) website. Or at least there used to be, last time I became aereated on this subject.

  5. Huh. I didn’t consider that angle at all, but I’m sure you’re right. Shame on the CSM for its uncritical boosterism of World Vision. Their international reporting can sometimes be pretty good, but it sounds as if they missed the boat this time.

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