By Ken Reed
Nike is a sports marketing behemoth. They usually get what they want. And what they apparently want is profits at all costs. Ethical business practices be damned.
For decades, Nike profited from sweatshop manufacturing facilities in third-world countries where wages and working conditions were terrible. Bigger profit margins always seemed to win out over having manufacturing plants with acceptable working conditions. Activists have campaigned for years to improve worker rights in Nike sweatshops in developing countries. And while they have made some headway, even Nike acknowledges that problems remain in some of the third-world facilities in which Nike products are made.
After the Tiger Woods wife-cheating scandal came to light, and it became clear that Woods’ carefully crafted image of the principled family man was a sham, many corporations dropped Woods from their stable of endorsers. Not Nike, instead they created an ad campaign around the following words: “Winning takes care of everything” on top of a photo of Woods lining up a putt. Nice. It was a spin-off on the ethically-corrupt sentiment espoused by Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Based on the company’s sweatshop history and the way it handled the Woods issue, Nike might some day create an ad campaign that states, “Profit isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” That statement could be plastered on a photo of a five-year-old Pakistani child working in a Nike factory, or a photo of Indonesian workers being hit by shoes thrown at them by Nike supervisors.
Now comes news that Nike is involved in the giant FIFA corruption scandal. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the FIFA investigation conducted by the Justice Department uncovered “agreements regarding sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by a major U.S. sportswear company.” The company she’s referring to is Nike, which completed a $160 million deal with Brazilian soccer officials in 1996 to sponsor the Brazil national team. The deal included Nike uniforms, footwear, apparel, equipment and accessories. According to the indictment, a couple days later, Nike also cut a $30 million deal with a sports marketing agency called Traffic Brazil. Those payments were used in part for bribes and kickbacks. The owner and founder of the Traffic agency, Jose Hawilla, has already pleaded guilty to charges related to the investigation, according to the Justice Department.
Nike’s code of ethics, “Inside the Lines,” starts on page one with four words: “Do the Right Thing.” A historical case study of Nike business operations would reveal that readers could safely stop right there.
The Nike code of ethics is clearly nothing but a sad joke.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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