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US Soccer and the Gadsden Flag

On the heels of the US's amazing comeback to draw Slovenia 2-2 last Friday, I thought it might be a good moment to take a look the interesting history of an important element in the design and marketing of the national men's soccer team.

For several years now, Nike has made use an image of a snake coiled around a soccer ball for their ongoing “Don’t Tread On Me” campaign in support of United States men’s soccer.

Nike's US Soccer badge

A representation of the rattlesnake is also contained on the inside of their uniforms to be used in in the 2010 World Cup.

Inside of US Soccer Kit

Personally, I’ve always associated this image with the US Marines and Navy, and so have been little dubious about the messaging here. Particularly, I was worried that this image suggested that we understand ourselves not as participants in the world’s game, but rather as a kind of isolated, standoffish gang apart from the community of world footballers. The logo, it struck me, was not in the spirit of world sport that is supposed to underwrite the World Cup.

Having said that, I have become ambivalent about this issue after doing a bit more reading about the original locus of this symbol, the the Gadsden flag. To wit:

The use of the timber rattlesnake as a symbol of the US can be traced back to colonial days, and specifically to the publications of Benjamin Franklin. In 1751, Ben suggested that America ought to thank the British for their policy of sending convicted criminals to America by sending rattlesnakes to England. The Gadsden flag — which bears this symbol — is considered “one of the first flags of the United States,” later replaced by the current Stars and Stripes flag.

“Since the Revolution,” Wikipedia claims, “the flag has seen times of reintroduction as a symbol of American patriotism, a symbol of disagreement with government, or a symbol of support for civil liberties.” On this view of the symbol, I think it’s great. It says something about our national history, and celebrating that is certainly in the spirit of the World Cup.

In the end, I leave it to you to decide for yourself. There’s more detail about the history of this symbol here.

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PaulJun 21, 2010

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