Michigan’s ‘Retro’ Jersey Look: They’re Not “Throwback”, Denard’s Still Working for Free, and David “Branding” Fails to Lead. Wake Up Michigan

They stink. Just a big marketing deception to pry cash out of the pockets of little kids, maybe high school kids, and their parents.  These jerseys have nothing to do with the past, and everything to do with being the end-product of Adidas’ Marketing and Design machines.

But what struck me was not the design of the jerseys (they resemble some Aussie-Rules Football uniforms), but the sharply constrasting roles of two people in this completely phony, dollar-driven marketing campaign:

First, Denard Robinson, standing there like a runway model, smiling blankly but amiably up there hyping these uniforms which mean nothing to him.

Second, David “Branding” Brandon, the consummate businessman who is bringing all the corporate marketing initiatives to UM sports.  Brandon’s narrow-Midwest Babbit approach blinds him to the irony here: UM is using Denard — who has a nationwide appeal and name – to build their brand, in the business which is UM football, run by corporate CEO Brandon. Brandon gets paid a big salary, lives in grand style.  Money, huge money, flowing everywhere — except for Denard and his family, who are probably the only members of this upside down economic framework who really NEED money – like, Tomorrow. Like Right-AWAY.   Brandon doesn’t recognize that phenomenon. Neither has Coleman, or Bill Martin, who married into big money which took him to luncheons at the New York Yacht Club.

Denard, as you may recall from the excellent feature story by Ryan Kartje in the Daily last fall, has a family which cannot afford to fly to Ann Arbor for a fall football game in which their son is rocketing to national fame. There they are in the Daily late-September photo, some 10 or 12 family members, gathered outdoors in the area where the driveway and garage intersect, watching the game on a TV parked just inside the garage for the afternoon. Denard’s Dad has just returned at 12 noon, as I recall, from his job as a Parks Maintenance person.

Compare:  David Brandon and his wife, and Mary-Sue C, and Bill Martin, and the rest of the UM athletic-industrial complex — at that very hour when the Robinsons are photographed while scattered around a small TV in flatland tract-house Florida –  have their “comfortable feather heads on their comfortable feather beds,” so to speak, up in their special Lux Box suite (with windows “for noise and climate control”) high above that grand UM football stadium known as the Big House. (And, if you stop and think about it, here’s another sharp irony: Daily Reporter Kartje and Photographer Max Collins get their plane fare, hotel room and meals – for a trip to Florida to visit the Robinson clan there while they watch the game – paid for by the University of Michigan.)

Brandon knows that kids don’t worship him – they worship Denard.  And Brandon also knows that that Denard-worship has thumping commercial value, because it will, Brandon knows, induce thousands of kids to go buy hero-worship ersatz-‘retro’ new Adidas jerseys. Which is why Brandon lets that shameful, embarrassing scene unfold, Denard (good god, how can you dislike the guy, he’s so clearly a good-hearted underdog, besides being a phenomenal athlete) led out on that stage like a show-dog.  How can you do that with a straight face, Brandon?  Brandon, you should be ashamed of yourself.  But Brandon gets what he wants for the UM Athletic Corporate culture: more new-jersey sale, more dollars, and further “building of the brand.”  Denard, he gets nothing for it.

Brandon’s narrow, junior-varsity constricted world-view, infected as it is by that quest for the big bucks, and his visceral devotion to cinching that gorgeous silk striped maize-and-blue corporate tie up around his neck as he preens amongst and in front of all his privileged brethren there in the Lux Boxes (who do not, we need to note, include Denard’s parents) prevents him from seeing two very obvious things:

1) That these new uniforms are just that — New.  And anything but “retro;” and

2) That what’s retro around here is Brandon’s  perception of his duty as AD and head of the UM Athletic corporation. He thinks his duty is just to maximize income, all the while conveniently ignoring the tension which has slowly built over the last 40 years around this now loony-tunes notion of college “amateur” athletics status.

Next time you happen to run into David Branding, point out to him, for example, that in 1965, John Wooden, Coach of the NCAA-champion UCLA Bruin basketball team, was paid a salary of $35,000 – and that this year, Jim Tressel’s salary at OSU, until he “resigned,” was $3.5 million dollars.  Then ask him: if Coaching salaries have shot up (because of NCAA billion-dollar TV contracts), why have the athlete/entertainers not enjoyed some income from their endeavors which fuel this entire big business enterprise?  Has he been sound asleep for 40 years now?  Can he not recognize what has gone on around him, and the extent to which he – Brandon — should be a leader on this important issue?

Brandon is a sophomoric follower, so far, and has blithely ignored this tension between the now entirely ‘retro’ and outdated — and predatory — “amateur” ideal, and the need to allow Superstar athlete/entertainers like Denard (and all his employee/entertainer teammates) to be paid as employees for their work on the field, and on the runway.

What’s the point? Michigan should be leading the way. The issue has apparently never crossed Brandon’s mind, or his lips.  And has never crossed the mind of Mary Sue Coleman. Why should it? They are drowning in money. All’s well — for them. They look like corporate titans.

This is a challenge: Wake up David Brandon. Wake up, Mary Sue C.  You have both been Operating Under the Influence of Money.  Time to turn on your thinking minds. Try reading something a little different, not just balance sheets. You are supposed to be “opinion leaders.”  When you go to College President conferences, seminars, Big Ten Conferences, NCAA Conferences, whatever, you should be the ones with the “thinking person’s” point of view, based on a “sense of where you are,” to steal Bill Bradley’s term.  You both need a coach like Bo, who would grab you coming off the sidelines:  Brandon! Coleman! are you IN THE GAME?  WHERE’S YOUR HEAD – AT?  You’re both sound asleep, in a mammon-induced coma. Michigan people are supposed to be thinking people, the smart ones, who see through pretense, see through the power of gold.  Wake up Michigan leaders (and best?), it’s time for Michigan to lead the way toward change –  toward a new paradigm for paying college athletes.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
This entry was posted in Amateur Status, Throwback Jerseys, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Michigan’s ‘Retro’ Jersey Look: They’re Not “Throwback”, Denard’s Still Working for Free, and David “Branding” Fails to Lead. Wake Up Michigan

  1. Teddy says:

    Great post!

    BTW, Brandon is busy creating a mascot to “take advantage of the youth demographic”.

    “I’m struck by the fact that when opposing teams come to our stadium, and they bring a mascot, all of our young fans are lined up to see if they can get a picture taken with it, whether it’s the Penn State Nittany Lion or Sparty,” Brandon told Michigan Today. “That’s a little annoying to me. “You can’t get your picture taken with a Block M. Mascots are really embraced by the youth demographic and we want to take advantage of that, for all the reasons that are obvious.”

    Maybe he can get a deal from Arby’s and have that big ass box of curly fries walking around that we saw at the Big Chill as our mascot.

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