Shirts bear a message kids could do without

It is a new season for high school sports soon, always welcome news. Especially for those of us who believe communities are local, not global. For those of us who enjoy kids, their stories and their voyages of self-discovery that are tethered almost magically to fields and courts.

I admit, however, to a flaw. I get a little protective of kids sometimes, if for no other reason than my ongoing education has taught me the urgency of teaching them the right lessons. Sports and all their metaphorical richness teach them well.

Yet as hard as we try, here comes society again, illustrating that our country's chief export now is cultural degeneracy.

Before we proceed, read the warning label: This is going to be more of a sociological rant. Sorry if you tuned in today for Xs and Os. Some stories supersede the games we play.

My wife was having breakfast the other day and heaved a sigh at the table that could have blown up a rear tire. I looked over.

"Look at this," she said.

Before I got there, she gave me the two-minute drill version of Urban Outfitters' new line of "pro-alcohol" T-shirts, timed perfectly for back-to-school shopping. They read: "I Drink You're Cute," (printed in a blurry font), "I Vote for Vodka," "USA Drinking Team," and "Misery Loves Alcohol."

You'll pardon me if I find those about as amusing as a hotel fire.

Here's why: Urban Outfitters' primary demographic is between 18 and 24. Kids, many of whom aren't yet old enough to drink, wear their clothing. And the message Urban Outfitters wants to send, apparently, is that it's cool to drink, no matter what age.

Not surprisingly, Urban Outfitters has sufficiently irritated Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Quite justifiably.

Let me just say this: I'm all for irreverence, sarcasm and a cheap laugh. I even chuckled one night walking down Seventh Avenue to Madison Square Garden at the T-shirt that read "bleep the bleeping bleepers," right there in somebody's store window. Crass, but amusing in its perverse originality.

But how is "I Vote For Vodka" an acceptable message for the demographic that shops at Urban Outfitters?

Drinking is OK for high school kids?

What, they need to work a little harder at it?

I'm concerned that there are adults somewhere in this country who participate in marketing development for Urban Outfitters who think this is a clever endeavor. Because "edgy" is cool. Ideas that bear restraint don't gather attention nearly as much as that which is volcanic.

I'm also concerned that there's a sizeable "aw, lighten up" faction out there, proclaiming that they're just T-shirts. Right. If you can't connect the dots between "I Vote For Vodka" and telling your kid that guzzling it is OK, your liquor cabinet, quite literally, is better stocked than your bookshelf.

Urban Outfitters frequently operates near the out-of-bounds line. But they're in the fifth row here. I'm not sure appealing to their sense of decency and asking them to burn this line of clothing applies. Of course, the "I Vote For Vodka" shirt sells for $29. Maybe most kids can't afford them. Plus, hey, they could buy a bottle of Grey Goose with $29 instead and fulfill Urban Outfitters' original intention.

At least, though, I'd hope school systems everywhere, regardless of whether dress codes are enforced, would send kids home if they dare show up trumpeting this particular fashion statement.

I look at these ads - female models who may or may not be 21 wearing the T-shirts - and I wonder why you'd ever walk into another Urban Outfitters. There must be scores and scores of clothing outlets that offer similar apparel and the same (or better) prices. Stores that understand the difference between humor and excess.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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