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The Jersey Exchange: A New Sign of Solidarity?

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

News and allegations of domestic and sexual violence have plagued the sports world. From Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics to ex-NFL player Zac Stacy, no sport remains unscathed from the ramifications of violence. Fans of every sport are stuck between feelings of hope that victims are speaking out and fighting for justice, and the dread of condemning their favorite players or teams for how they handle any allegations.

The latest allegations of player misconduct surround Manchester United’s forward, Mason Greenwood. The 20-year-old forward was arrested late last month after rape allegations were posted on Instagram, including images and an audio file purported to be a recording of the attack. In one fell swoop, Manchester United issued a statement condemning violence, suspended Greenwood "until further notice", and sent supporters an email offering those who have purchased a Greenwood jersey to exchange it for another player, free of cost. The email stated: "As a United Direct customer we are writing to you regarding your previous purchase of a Manchester United shirt personalised with Greenwood, given the current circumstances relating to Mason Greenwood.”

While many commend Manchester United and Adidas for the exchange option, others question why other teams and leagues have not utilized this system before. Sponsors drop players, deals fall through, and athletes are benched. However, Greenwood is not the first athlete accused or charged with violent conduct, yet the option for fans to obtain a replacement jersey is unheard of.

Manchester United’s stance encourages a multitude of questions surrounding the different player contracts amongst sports leagues and teams. An interesting comparison to Greenwood’s situation would be to that of the Houston Texans’ quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who is the subject of 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal charges, including allegations of sexual assault. However, Texans fans were never given the option to exchange their Watson jerseys when news of the allegations broke in March 2021. Watson was never even formally suspended from training and playing with the Texans, nor did the NFL ever put Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. Instead, the NFL refrained from taking a true stance on Watson’s future with the league while news of a possible trade with the Carolina Panthers or Miami Dolphins circulated on social media.

Differences in contracts are likely at play in both of these situations, but fans are questioning whether Manchester United’s actions may inspire other teams and leagues to react similarly if the situation arises. Exchanging jerseys of players in the midst of controversy likely will not have much of an effect on the royalties collected from jersey sales, and likely not more so than the drop (if any) in the sales of said player’s jersey when under investigation. However, in a society that has promoted the support of domestic and sexual violence survivors, many fans may be more comfortable supporting teams that have displayed actions in solidarity with survivors.

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