Nike’s ‘hoo haa’ Olympic uniforms reveal everything, including sexism in sport | Olympic Games

Paris has long been known for its avant garde fashion. Yet the couture scene would be hard-pressed to produce anything as confounding and controversial as the Team USA track and field kits that were unveiled in the City of Lights last week.

There was nothing to see when it came to Team USA’s men’s track uniforms: standard shorts and a tank top. But when it came to their female counterparts, there was everything to see, especially around the nether regions.

As reigning 800m Olympic champion and Nike athlete Athing Mu modelled the US team’s briefs (fellow participant Sha’Carri Richardson opted for shorts) the scene drummed up memories of the Rio Games: the new USA uniforms would be ideal for a Brazilian beach. Citrus Magazine further highlighted the design flaw when it tweeted an image of a mannequin showcasing the uniform and suffering from some major camel toe.

The uniforms are a step backwards on multiple levels. Fashion-wise, they are a hybrid of the leotards worn by 1980s aerobic addicts and the costumes for Baywatch in the 1990s. Except the workout leotards were worn with tights and Baywatch was toned-down porn.

When it comes to the evolution of women’s sports, once again it’s one step forward, two steps back. A commenter on X said it best: “Men can worry about their athletic performance while women have to worry about chaffing, their genitals not falling out and getting a bikini wax. Definitely equal opportunities huh”

Nike defended itself by noting that Team USA athletes not only have a choice between briefs and shorts but a wide variety of other outfit combinations. And reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katie Moon criticized the notion that the uniforms are sexist. “Whether we feel best in a potato sack or a bathing suit during competitions, we should support the autonomy,” Moon, who is sponsored by Nike, wrote on Instagram.

But there was no shortage of Olympic athletes appalled or bemused by the cut of the briefs, with long jumper Tara Davis-Woodhall memorably noting that “my hoo haa is gonna be out.”

The controversy comes at a fascinating juncture in the evolution of women’s sports. The showcase of the Nike uniforms occurred a few days after the NCAA basketball tournament, a huge event in the American sports calendar, saw the women’s final draw in more TV viewers than that of the men. The standout star of that final, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, appeared on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live to chide cast member Michael Che for his history of misogynist jokes about women’s basketball. There was no need to explain who she was, as may have been the case in the past with women’s basketball stars: Clark is second perhaps only to LeBron James at the moment in terms of basketball star power. And her mockery of Che infused her fans with a sense of empowerment.

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But empowering is not the first word that comes to mind with a glance at those Nike briefs. If some track and field athletes are truly more comfortable with the cut, more power to them. Wear them during the Olympics. But for Nike to promote the bikini bottom and not just the shorts is troublesome. Young female athletes looking up to these Olympians already must deal with conforming to body stereotypes and self-esteem issues. Then their menstrual cycles begin and they must deal with all kinds of hormones and moments of self-consciousness. There’s a reason that girls are more than twice as likely as boys to drop out of sports by the age of 14. The last they need is to feel like a track kit like the one created by Nike is the ideal.

There have been plenty of inspiring advances in women’s athletics, most notably in soccer where clubs across the globe are doing away with white shorts. Coincidentally, Nike is among those offering apparel with built-in period protection. The Olympic platform would have been tremendous for an expansion of Nike’s One Leak Protection line. Instead, we got a bikini bottom. Sigh.

Did Nike even float this track and field kit by a focus group? Its release came on the heels of another issue encircling Nike. The company’s MLB uniforms have been an utter disaster this season. Pants and jerseys are different shades, fonts are too small, and for all of Nike’s fancy technology, its MLB uniforms appear to be lacking basic sweat resistant materials.

These are two separate issues though. One appears to be rooted in incompetence, the other in sexism. Both are easily solvable, especially for a company worth $138bn. But maybe Nike doesn’t care. Maybe all that financial runway means it can take added risks. And in the end, despite the missteps, the added publicity means that Nike wins. Whether the American Olympians can perform in the new kits without their hoo-haas sticking out remains to be seen.

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