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March 30, 2016

I Miss My Issues

I Miss My Issues


WILDCAT WEDNESDAY – Issues. That is what they were called. They were the simple old-school Northwestern-issued uniform that we wore in the same way the military wears their camouflage fatigues while traveling to and from their post in public place. I wonder if they have to wear them. Nobody made us wear them, but most of us wore them quite a bit. I remember wearing them for convenience’s sake. I also remember some of the stares, and not wanting to deal with the judgment that often comes with being recognized for what you did. Most of all, I remember wearing them because I was often just so sore and cold in the dead of a Chicago winter. There were long stretches where you got out of them for practice, you put them back on, you took them off for bed and slid back into them the next day. Class, workout, dinner, study, bed and repeat.

When Shannon Small pulled out her two pairs last week in Texas almost 20 years after our college days, we jumped in and laughed. We were proud that we still fit in them. One pair was far too big for us now, yet it in some way made us so much cooler back then.The best part was seeing Shannon’s last name written across her chest – SMALL followed by her alleged sweatshirt size, XL. This was not even close to reality. If Shannon was an XL, I think the guys on the football team were XXXL.“It’s always fun as a woman to walk around with SMALL XL written across your boobs,” Shannon said.

I remember having HOLOHAN in dark marker across my chest. We were told to write our names in the white box so that it would be easier on the laundry crew, but over time, fewer athletes did it, and I now understand why.If you were driving down Central Street or Lincoln Ave, the rule was if you saw someone walking in issues and/or a letterman’s jacket, you stopped and picked them up for a quick lift to Dyche Stadium. On one moment, when you were walking around campus and you saw someone else in them, even if you’d never seen the person before, you said hi or smiled. Yet you could often feel in some academic settings the judgment that you invited when you wore them into class. It was so so easy for the staff writers of The Daily Northwestern, including Teddy Greenstein, to slip by unnoticed. Yet we were marked either by our size or our issues or both.

Now that Northwestern is backed by Under Armour, Shannon and I wondered about the new look compared to our old Russell-sponsored issues. I wondered how many student-athletes nowadays want to be recognized as such while walking around campuses where so many students are fearing the stress of college debt for years to come. Wearing those issues for many including me was one less outfit I had to buy. I won’t lie by saying I didn’t count all the free gear that you’re given at Northwestern and say that it didn’t hurt when I graduated and no longer received it.  I will also say that I was fully aware that my parents had four kids while I was in college. My dad was starting his new business. My mom worked double shifts at the hospital. She always offered to invest in a wardrobe for me, but I never wanted her to do so because I knew how much she worked.

We took all the free gear we could get and it got us through the week. We also took all the free laundering of our sweaty, gross gear every day, and any time we could get our issues thrown in for a good cleaning.  Add this to the list of student-athlete perks. The time and money saved – and honestly, it adds up. Nike gave us a travel sweat suit each year, and I saved them and wore them as long as I could. But the issues were the staple. I knew, like my letterman’s jacket, that I had earned them. And when you are caught up in one demanding season after another, dressing in your issues was an important psychological boost that helped get you through.