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Stirring The Pot: Nike Equality Ad Makes A Statement

While this blog is to talk about football, there will be a few times when we veer very briefly into broader sports issues or sports business. Today is one of those days.

Recently Nike, as they have throughout the company’s history, used an ad to stir the pot of discourse. The ad “Equality” features athletes and people representing different races, faiths, genders and orientation. Given the times, surely Nike anticipated many will react by stating that a company should not inject political views into their marketing.

But at the end of the day how can anyone be upset by a company and athletes espousing the values of equality? Here in The United States the revolutionary statement “All Men Are Created Equal” were among the first words our nation uttered to the world in our infancy. Even when we fell short of that promise, we fixed our eyes on the summit to which we aspire.

Even in sports Equality took time.

But since the full integration of American sports, the fields, courts, gyms and rinks have been the Promised Land of Equality. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets a trophy or that everything is always equal. Equality in sport means this: in sport action determines destiny, honest competition forges excellence, "the content of our character" is paramount and teams overcome walls.

Unity through Equality is a value that hopefully the next generation of Americans carries into a world that increasingly directs our attention to that which can be used to divide us--trying to separate us by race, by how we choose to worship or who we choose to love.

Coaching for two decades taught me that mutual respect, trust and equality could be found when a team holds hands in a huddle united in common purpose. In that moment all that matters is a belief in each other created in knowing that you all paid the price to be there.

But stepping away from the aspirational aspects of the ad, take a look at the execution. A flagship American brand like Nike could face resistance in a global marketplace--should an anti-Trump backlash start to hit U.S. companies abroad. So Nike makes a pre-emptive strike, a strong statement about how they view the world.

Internally Nike also builds loyalty giving appreciative (and Iconic) athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams a platform to voice their beliefs.

From an artistic standpoint--the ad is shot in black and white subtly stating that we do not or should not see color. The use of Sam Cooke’s song “A Change Gonna Come” remade by Alicia Keys is a nod to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s when that song was an anthem of people hoping for a better future.

This isn’t Nike’s first rodeo and these guys are good at what they do. They’ve never been shy about ads designed to spark discussion--which is probably what they wanted all along.

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