Nike: Maybe That Ain't Right

Nike just e-mailed a statement about their Hyperdunk print campaign, which has been an ongoing topic on TrueHoop and other blogs this week:

Nike is strongly opposed to discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting athletes regardless of their sexual orientation. The advertisement in question is based purely upon a common insight from within the game of basketball -- the athletic feat of dunking on the opposition, and is not intended to be offensive.

However, after listening to concerns expressed around specific executions, we have decided to drop them from the campaign to underline our ongoing commitment to supporting diversity in sport and the workplace.

Nike has a strong record of support for diversity and is proud to have been honored with a 100 percent score over several consecutive years in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index.

I have a call in to try to find out which "specific executions" are getting killed. The two that came up on TrueHoop as controversial had headlines "That Ain't Right" and "Punks Jump Up." Those two, and possibly some others, have been removed from the blog of the agency that created them.

I'm a fan of free expression, and as I wrote before, I totally appreciate these ads. My best guess is that there was no ill intent. No one disputes those ads certainly can be interpreted in a way that is not homophobic at all. For all those reasons, I frankly feel a little bad for whoever created the killed ads.

But I also understand that many, if not most or all, basketball courts see their share of homophobia. Knowing that, you also know that some percentage of the target audience will interpret these ads through the lens of homophobia.

And then, if you're Nike, do you want to deliver homophobes the (unintended) message that you're in their corner?

For that reason, I can't say this decision surprises me.

Was it right to kill those ads? Hard to say. It's a fine line between actual progress and cold-hearted political correctness. Rather than getting this far in the process, and then having to flirt with that line, maybe next time the creative team can dig even deeper to come up with headlines they like as much or more that don't run the risk of sending a very wrong message.