Nike has long enjoyed a special type of relationship with Georgetown’s athletics programs. As noted in this week’s feature, titled “In Foul Trouble: Unlacing Georgetown’s Relationship with Nike,” this partnership goes back to the glory days of Hoya basketball in the 1980s. Yet, given Nike’s record of labor abuses, many have rightfully questioned the wisdom of a Jesuit institution pairing itself so closely with the apparel company. This Editorial Board believes that students, and especially student athletes, should make clear to the University that they do not approve of this partnership.
Last semester, an image tweeted by activist Jim Keady depicted a group of Georgetown student athletes demonstrating their displeasure with this sponsorship by covering up the Nike logos on their University-provided sneakers. This action followed a Nov. 9 discussion led by Keady, during which he said that Nike sweatshop employees are paid only $1.25 a day.
The logo cover-up has come at a time of increasing student-athlete activism at Georgetown and across the country. Student athletes have begun to use their unique position of power among students to speak out about the issues they find most pressing. Last season, we saw our basketball team emerge onto the Verizon Center court for a game against Kansas wearing warm-up shirts that read, “I Can’t Breathe”—the final words of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by a New York City police officer.
At the University of Missouri, as protests spread across campus following acts of racial aggression, players on the football team threatened to boycott their games if the protesters’ concerns were not addressed. At the end of it all, both the President of the University of Missouri system and the Chancellor of the flagship Columbia University campus had resigned.
Student athletes have a much greater stage than most of us on campus. Events here at Georgetown and at other universities have shown that student athletes can elevate issues beyond the reach of normal campus protests.
Nike’s past abuses are many. Given that it has decided not to allow inspectors from the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) to access its facilities, it cannot be assumed that the problems have been resolved. Furthermore, Nike’s refusal to pay employees a living wage, as outlined in Georgetown’s Code of Conduct, casts serious doubt on the compatibility of the company’s practices and this university’s values.
This Editorial Board asks all students at Georgetown to educate themselves on the troubling history of labor abuses at Nike. We should question why our university chooses to align itself so closely with a company that refuses to abide by its own codes for such partnerships.
Student athletes, with their large audience and place within the Athletics Department, have a unique opportunity to bring these issues to light. This Editorial Board would encourage them to do so. That said, we know that student-athletes face risks for such actions. They should not have to worry about losing scholarships or positions for engaging in activism that advocates for the University’s values.
We hope that, in the future, will we see many more covered swooshes in our social media feeds.