Protesting for racial injustice is now widely accepted across many sports leagues, but many of the same owners, franchises and corporate sponsors who are supporting players’ protests today are still weaponizing their power to silence Black athletes who protested racial injustice in the past. There’s no better example of this corporate double standard than Nike.
U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry is a world-renowned track and field athlete. This Black woman has worked her whole life to become one of the top athletes in her field and holds the world record in the weight throw for the hammer competition.But, when she raised her fist at the medal podium at the 2019 Pan American Games, the praise and sponsorships she had amassed for her record breaking athleticism were quickly ripped away by spineless corporations that were swift to impose repercussions for taking a public stand against racial injustice. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) put Berry on probation, and corporate sponsors like Nike abandoned her, leaving her in complete financial freefall. Now, more than a year later, Berry’s financial status and professional career remain fragile as she trains for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic games.
It’s well known that Nike supports former NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, even after he was blacklisted by the NFL for kneeling in protest, and it consistently uses Black bodies in its ads to market its “brand.” Yet, the company is still standing by the decision to desert and punish Berry for similar advocacy and protest
Nike has given us a clear example of how major corporations commodify Blackness for profit, disguising it as support for justice while picking and choosing when to take meaningful action to increase a bottom line.
To do our part and lead by example, Color Of Change is sponsoring Berry for the 2021 calendar year, but it’s not enough. We’re tired of corporations only supporting Black people when it’s convenient or profitable. Athletes who stand up for racial justice should be rewarded, not punished, for their protests. While leagues like the NBA, WNBA and NFL have finally started to embrace athlete activism, there’s still a long way for corporations to go. So we’re working with our seven million members to demand corporate Olympic sponsors, including Nike, Kellogg’s, Hershey’s, United Airlines, Ralph Lauren, Toyota, and Samsung, support Gwen. And we hope you’ll join us.
As an organization that has lifted up Black collegiate and professional athletes for years, Color Of Change is proud to sponsor Berry—but it shouldn’t be up to civil rights groups to step in when corporations fail to meet the moment. We need Nike to put its money where its mouth is— and immediately renew its sponsorship of Gwen Berry.
Berry rose her fist before it was safe to do so—before thousands of corporations issued Black Lives Matter statements in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as well as the violent police shooting of Jacob Blake.
By supporting Black athletes like Berry, we send a clear message that we will continue to protect athletes as they put their jobs on the line to demand justice, even if corporations decide not to our movement again. And this push for companies to go #BeyondTheStatement in support of Black people is wide ranging. We want them to pay their Black employees a living wage, provide health insurance and other benefits, and prove they value their majority Black workforce the same way they claim they value Black people who protest.
Again, Nike is a poster child for this Black Lives Matter contradiction. Nike continuously hides behind hollow words while exploiting Black workers, athletes and racial justice as a public relations campaign to sell its products. This inability to commit to equitable pay within its company highlights how its own business practices perpetuate financial injustice and harm. It’s evident that Nike does not live up to its values when it comes to their employees—or the athletes it supports.
As we finish off the NBA playoffs and watch the NFL season begin, committing to racial justice has to be more than just releasing a Black Lives Matter statement or tweet. Black athletes are making it clear that business will not continue as usual. And, as usual, Nike will no doubt continue to brand itself as thee company standing in solidarity with the Black community. Now it’s up to us to hold them to their word.