”Pretty in pink” – How a Football Jersey Changed Germany (…maybe?)

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MEN’S GERMANY 2024 AWAY AUTHENTIC JERSEY via adidas.com

Not too long ago, in 2023, the Barbie movie became the biggest debut ever for a film directed by a woman. In one of the main songs in the movie – “Pink” sung by Lizzo – the singer happily and confidently claims that “pink goes with everything”. However, and while there is always a possibility for the impossible, I highly doubt that she had football in mind when writing these lines. What Barbie, Lizzo, and the German Football Association (DFB hereafter) do have in common, however, is that – apparently – they all have a love and appreciation for the color that is so typically associated with femininity and, you guessed it, women.

When the DFB and Adidas first released the brand-new selection of jerseys before the 2024 Euros, many felt like they got dragged to a gender reveal party they never wanted to attend in the first place. While still very much sticking to Germany’s signature colors for the most part – typically some sort of combination of black and white with some red and golden sprinkles here and there – the 2024 Euros Away Kit was, in fact, a shocker.

”Doctor, what is it?” It’s a girl. And then there was silence. And disappointment.

In fact, a rather shocking surprise for many, the jersey was launched alongside a promotional video explaining how this neon-baby – a symbol of inclusion and diversity – came to life. Most importantly, the video was a response to shut down the anticipated backlash from those with no appreciation for all things Barbie would have added to her cart in a heartbeat. While the traditional jersey seemingly did not need any further explanation, the shocking pink jersey quickly also got the nickname “diversity kit” – representing a fight against racism and homophobia, particularly among its football audience but also in terms of German society in general.

The debates that followed on social as well as traditional media were predominantly centered around two things: 1) What does it mean to be German?; and 2) What in Zeus’ name happened to our German football that once was a safe space for heterosexual cis-men? While it is certainly interesting how a color can challenge conventions and stir up debates in an entire country, statements highlighting “a new era” or people claiming pink to be “more than a fashion statement” and rather “a symphony of shades signaling change” left a bad taste in my mouth. And while I do like the look of the jersey, it’s not the Stonewall Riots, nor a Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus.

In fact, after some consideration, I do, respectfully yet with a slight roll of the eye, disagree with them quite a lot. The idea of “Germany – so brave, so innovative” is a narrative that seems almost gullible when we look at the bigger picture.

While most of us probably think of black-and-white stripes when we think of Juventus Turin, they were not afraid of wearing a little bit of pink before changing to their iconic stripes. The same goes for Manchester United, Palermo, Cerezo Osaka from Japan, and even my hometown club Werder Bremen, which has sold thousands of salmon-colored jerseys long before the DFB and Adidas ever thought about the possibility of Toni Kroos playing some of his final games for Germany in “a woman’s color”.

And although designs of club-level jerseys might be on a different level than those of a national team, I’d still argue against those applauding the DFB and Adidas for their so-called braveness and innovative ideas. While allyship and actions of the masses are important to change hegemonic discourses and metaphorically and literally get the ball rolling for everyone (see what I did there?), I find words like “new era,” “revolution,” or even “movement” too big for what it is without having more information than how many jerseys sold within a particular amount of time.

Yes – the jersey became the fastest-selling DFB away jersey of all time, but consumerism, particularly in times of social media and influencing, is often driven by trends and marketing rather than genuine, substantive change. Such popularity often reflects more about effective branding and market dynamics than it does about real progress in societal attitudes or structural transformations. Without concrete actions and commitments behind these symbols, the risk remains that these gestures will be fleeting and superficial rather than a milestone of deep and enduring change.

And no – symbolism in football is nothing new. Buying a jersey of your country is a symbolic act in itself. Not to forget the drama around the OneLove armband during the 2022 World Cup, trying to raise awareness for the LGBTQ+ community, but eventually getting banned by FIFA faster than one could even say the LGBTQ+ acronym. Despite not sporting a nice little rainbow, the shocking pink diversity kit may in fact encourage people, particularly White football-loving men, to forget about their toxic masculinity for just 90min and wear pink with pride for the first time in their life.

On the other hand, critics might argue that it does not necessarily reflect deeper, substantive actions or commitments towards its presumed values and that suspicion of pinkwashing towards Adidas and the DFB are – based on my own personal opinion – absolutely valid, even if there is a heartwarming promotional video potentially implying genuine care for marginalized groups in Germany.

In the end, it simply may not make too much of a difference whether Daniel and Peter can wear their 180€ shocking pink jersey without feeling robbed of their masculinity. And while small steps certainly matter, what needs to be understood and communicated is how and to what extent Adidas and the DFB are ensuring that they are making significant, tangible contributions to promoting diversity and inclusion on and off the field beyond selling some neon-colored fabric for insane margins that may only insufficiently – or not at all – support the causes they claim to stand and fight for.

After all, whether a jersey that claims to promote societal diversity and inclusion and access for all to football really is inclusive – with retail prices hovering around 180€ compared to production and marketing prices that probably do not cross the 10€ mark – is debatable in itself.

One question remains: have we all bought into a strategy claiming to fight toxic gender norms and societal barriers that merely attracted those who already valued diversity and inclusion all along? Or did “Shocking Pink” indeed leave its footmark on German grounds forever?

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Leah is in her final year of her PhD at the Dept. of Sport Sciences at Malmö University, Sweden. Her dissertation project is concerned with the concept of "talent" in elite youth football and what it really means when we use a concept that seems to have infinite definitions. Leah has a multidisciplinary background and holds a B.A. from Malmö University as well as a M.Sc from Lunds University. Born and raised in Germany, she has been spent her entire adult life and tertiary education abroad.

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