Posted by Abe Sauer on April 22, 2010 01:27 PM
With hyperbolic lines like "You have to go a long way to find anything as disgusting as a night on the town with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger..." and "the real pariah is the lone athlete not carrying Nike’s water," The New York Times breaks out the soapbox and climbs on up.
NYT's Opinionator blog this week, in a post titled "Nike's Women Problem" by Timothy Egan, savages Nike for maintaining ties to athletes embroiled in sex scandals, asking, "What, exactly does it take for Nike to dump a jock?"
It's a terribly simplified rant with a poorly-thought-out title. (Way to stay classy and make it about women; isn't it a "man" problem?) But does the author have a point when he wonders, "Perhaps a certain creepy cred does help move product?"
No. He doesn't. To paraphrase, "It's the performance, stupid." Nike maintained its sponsorship with Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger not because of their poor off-field performances but because of their exceptional on-field ones.
Nike is an athletics brand, not a moral authority. Its role is not to judge conduct unless that conduct is of the athletic variety. Once the brand starts moralizing, where does it end? Should Nike not sell shoes to men who cheated on their wives? Indeed, should readers abandon the Times because of Jayson Blair?
When its sponsors do run afoul of the law Nike has dropped the hammer. As the author mentions, Michael Vick found himself without his Nike sponsorship once convicted.
It also dumped Newcastle United's Joey Barton when he landed in jail. It said bye-bye to sprinter Justin Gatlin after he tested positive for illegal performance-enhancing drugs. UFC fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama lost his Nike sponsorship for cheating; he used Oil of Olay before a fight to make himself more slippery.
Is Roethlisberger's behavior admirable? Of course not, but the point is that Nike rewards and punishes performance, because that is its brand.
Later in the bluster, Egan points out that, through sponsorship, "Nike helps obscure female athletes train and find a community of equally motivated women."
So, again, what's the "problem"?