Interactive Waste Disposal

Ever wonder what happened to all of the gear that gets produced for championship games in the North American professional sports leagues? In a story that appeared before the Super Bowl, the New York Times reports what happens in the specific case of the NFL — the unwanted gear is sent to Africa as part of the league's charitable outreach.

"Where these items go, the people don't have electricity or running water," said Jeff Fields, a corporate relations officer for World Vision. "They wouldn't know who won the Super Bowl. They wouldn't even know about football."

If we consider this gesture from the perspective of heat and thermodynamics and caloric energy, a donation of t-shirts as supplemental skins seems very generous indeed. "At least somebody needy will get use out of them, right?" It isn't the shirt or hat that is important, though, but the inscription that each one bears: team, league and sponsor logos, along with the phrase "Super Bowl Champions". It is the vector of information that is of interest to us in this situation.

We must begin to consider this question in the context of what Virilio describes as the "logistics of perception". For Virilio, the military battlefield is first and foremost a site in which flows of images and information must be coordinated and transmitted so that soldiers and factors of materiel may be coordinated in movement thereafter:

[T]he idea of logistics is not only about oil, about ammunitions and supplies but also about images. Troops must be fed with ammunition and so on but also with information, with images, with visual intelligence. Without these elements troops cannot perform their duties properly. This is what is meant by the logistics of perception (Life in the Wires, 2004, p.130).

The logistics of perception assumes a slightly different form when we are discussing the (post-nuclear) battlefield of sports sponsorship. In this case, there is only one company contesting the real battlespace of the stadium (by dint of exclusivity in any sponsorship deal), though the virtual space of the media-net theatre of operations still features several contesting companies.

For the sponsoring company to maximize its sponsorship investment, it must first maximize its radiated exposure in the live televisual transmission and subsequent archived representations. This means that getting sponsored merchandise — such as Super Bowl Champion caps and t-shirts — into the appropriate positions is of paramount importance. Sight lines replace firing lines in the sportocratic logistics of perception.

Distribution is a science. Twelve employees from Reebok and the N.F.L. huddle midway through the fourth quarter and handicap the game. If the score is lopsided, they stalk the sideline of the winning team, keeping the boxes out of sight.

But if the game is close, half the group goes to one side and half goes to the other. Each employee is assigned a star player to outfit. If the Colts win, for instance, someone immediately has to get a shirt and cap to quarterback Peyton Manning. If the Bears win, someone has to find linebacker Brian Urlacher.

This can be a difficult job, dodging joyous 300-pound linemen. But the advertising potential is priceless. Once the scoreboard clock hits 00:00, clothing manufacturers around the country start churning out championship merchandise. If Manning is seen wearing a T-shirt Sunday night, it will be flying off shelves in Indianapolis by Monday.

But simply being in position is not quick enough to satisfy the temporal demands of the media-net, since we are unable to instantly produce clothing on-demand for the winning team. Thus, the requirement to produce two sets of championship gear. In other words, the sportocratic logistics of perception demand an overproduction of images to meet the temporal requirements of the media-net. And due to the architectural form of the sportocracy (binary, hierarchical, arborescent), this overproduction is precisely double what is otherwise required in the end. Production thus bifurcates into oppositional signs that precisely cancel out one another — a Colts championship t-shirt possesses a positive semiotic energy for the sponsoring company that is only equaled by the negative energy that could potentially return in a sort of boomerang effect from a wayward Bears t-shirt.

So we come full circle to the question of what to do with the surfeit of clothing that accumulates after a winner and a loser have been decided in the big game. It cannot be solely a matter of clothing the disadvantaged, since there must certainly be those existing in local contexts who similarly require a gift of clothing and warmth. As the article points out, "by order of the National Football League, those items are never to appear on television or on eBay. They are never even to be seen on American soil." The negative energy cannot be allowed to return.

Thus, the need for disposal. Once the positive semiotic energy of the winning jerseys and caps has been released, the losing jerseys are cast away like so much radioactive waste. Instead of burying it underground or ejecting it to outer space, however, the NFL ships it off to pollute Africa with its interactivity ("interactivity is the equivalent of radioactivity"–Virilio) while claiming a tax writeoff in the process.

Tony DungyFor RBKNFLCBS the operation was flawlessly executed, as the last shot before the first commercial after the game ended featured a slow motion replay of Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy being carried triumphantly onto the field by his players. Dungy was in the process of changing from his Colts ballcap to his official Super Bowl Champions cap, and turning his head ever so slightly, as if in collusion, threw the Reebok logo into perfect relief for a brief moment before the fade to black.

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  1. kim bauer says:

    some thoughts:
    Sending the losing teams jersey's to Africa can be considered polluting or contaminating, in the sense that we attempt to bombard them with materialistic messages (reebok etc) and consider it charity (in order to get a tax return). But in the grand scheme of it all, are both sides not benefiting? Does Africa, or would anyone, despise receiving brand new clothing, littered with symbols that do not hold any relevant meaning to them? Do they refuse to accept these offers? How do we know that they do not want this charity? Where else could it be sent?
    Although, I recognize that there are moral stipulations to consider (ie. is it ethical to ship off our unwanted goods/to whose advantage is it), but in essence - it is a t-shirt, or a sweater… and it is something that they do not have/could not get on their own. Is it just clothing that is sent over? What about a logo infested football? This could promote sport and play and physical activity (which we all know does wonders to our bodies/mind). This in mind, it almost seems acceptable, and even honourable to ship off our unwanted corporate goods to people who don't even have the resources to read our opinions here, let alone probably eat a decent meal.

    But yes, populations similar to that of Africa - those who would similarly require a gift of clothing and warmth, do exist locally. .. and the idea that they wouldn't want it makes me wonder why anyone else would want it (want it, or be allowed to have it). So it doesn't sit right with me.

    If publicity and marketing were not as valued within our society, there would be no need to make both teams merch prior to the outcome of event. Perhaps the sponsors could wait a single day (probably even only a few hours) and send Africa (some of) the money that would have been spent on making the losing team's merch instead — This would provide a more appropriate form of aid/relief. Patience wouldn't kill the sponsors, and hey, it might even save some lives.