Nike’s Corporate Response to Kobe Bryant: My Interview with Nike

15 Apr

We will be watching you

First, I would like to say that one of the things I love about  living in Portland, Oregon is that, for the most part, there is a general acceptance of and even desire for diversity.  Nike is headquartered here in Portland, and I had an impressive experience at Nike as I attended a diversity workshop there You can imagine my great disappointment when Nike spokesathlete Kobe Bryant made the homophobic slur at a recent Lakers game.  My heart sank and I just hoped that Nike would stand by its diversity statement and dismiss Bryant as a spokesperson making millions of dollars.  Here is a part of the diversity statement from Nike:

Diversity and Inclusion is fundamental to Nike’s performance. It’s what makes us better. It’s what makes us smarter. It helps our business grow and helps us connect with consumers.
—Gina A. Warren, VP Global Diversity & Inclusion

Bryant, being in the employ of Nike, seems to have violated the core principles of diversity when he used the word “faggot.”

I immediately called and left a message for Gina A. Warren.  We played a bit of phone tag, but to Nike’s credit, they did call me back and made sure they talked to me. I spoke with Kellie Leonard, Corporate Spokeswoman for Nike.  Kellie was quite gracious as I interviewed her and consistently expressed her disappointment in Bryant’s slur:

He continues to be a sponsored athlete. His comments are not acceptable and nor are they in the spirit of basketball. He has apologized for his language. It is important that it is a sincere apology. Nike is opposed to any discrimination of any kind.

When I pressed Ms. Leonard further and asked if Nike would have the moral fiber  and convictions behind their commitment to diversity to dismiss Bryant, she replied:

Kobe does remain an athlete. We have no plans to change our relationship with Kobe.

I asked what his being an athlete has to do with his behavior and Ms. Leonard declined to comment. I realize I put Ms. Leonard in a difficult position, but as a member of the LGBT community, I want more from Nike. Here is my conundrum: I really do believe Nike and Ms. Leonard are exceedingly dedicated to diversity and do try to combat homophobia, but I wish they would show some courage of conviction and take action and not continue to pay millions of dollars to Bryant.  So there is a part of me that wants to call for a world-wide boycott of all Nike products, but I don’t want to act in haste.  So here is a compromise and a call to action on behalf of both the LGBT community and of Nike: WE WILL BE WATCHING KOBE LIKE A HAWK!  I fully expect Kobe to substantiate his apology with actions and not just words; should we see another outburst of homophobic behavior, Nike’s subsequent actions will determine whether or not a boycott is merited.

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8 Responses to “Nike’s Corporate Response to Kobe Bryant: My Interview with Nike”

  1. mary April 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Here’s my nephew’s response to your post Michael…

    ‎”This is a guy who cheated on his wife and is a role model only if you want to be a selfish ball hog…..how many chances does a guy get????”

    anyone else feel this way?

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

      Mary, Thank you for sharing your nephew’s comment. He brings up a really good point. Bryant is hardly a role model.

  2. webwordwarrior April 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Very nice interview, Michael. I hope Nike feels the pressure. I’m sharing this story with everyone in my WebWorld. Thanks again for your great work for justice!

  3. Drew & John April 16, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Thank you for keeping this important story alive. Nike’s response is especially disappointing since Bryant is appealing the fine. Who cares why he said it? The fact is that hate speech was instinctive. He should be fined $1,000,000 and made to do some PSAs for GSAs.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 16, 2011 at 8:08 am #

      Drew and John,
      You are absolutely right! How funny your comment came in when I just published another follow up article on the bigoted Bryant. I may have to call for a world wide boycott!

  4. mary April 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    I’ve read a bit more about Bryant today, I’m so not a fan… Nike really made a poor choice signing him in the first place.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

      I completely agree! My respect for Nike is waning. Bryant has never been a role model and has little to leave as a legacy, save for a misogynistic homophobic selfish bigoted man.

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