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Thursday, September 25
Critics blast Converse as marketing violence

Associated Press

Converse, the company that brought the world the original basketball sneaker, has come up with a new one: "Loaded Weapon."

What would Chuck Taylor think?

Loaded Weapon
Converse has a new shoe: "Loaded Weapon."

The name of the latest Converse sneaker is drawing criticism because of recent high-profile cases involving guns, murder and basketball players.

Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, was troubled by the name, especially in light of the fatal shooting this summer of Baylor's Patrick Dennehy.

"You're taking a violent theme and trying to sell it to kids," Haney said. "I'm sure these people are well-meaning, but I think it's a bad message in today's environment, a bad statement for the time in which we live.

"It's a pensive time reflecting on what's going on, and we're promoting a shoe called 'Loaded Weapon'?"

The sneaker name also raises issues in the NBA, where several players have had run-ins with the law, sometimes involving firearms.

Former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams was charged last year with manslaughter in the shooting of a limo driver, and Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas was charged this summer with carrying a concealed weapon.

In 2002, Philadelphia star Allen Iverson was accused of waving a gun in a man's face but was later cleared. Iverson also pleaded no contest to a gun charge after a 1997 traffic stop.

Converse recruited five NBA rookies -- Toronto's Chris Bosh, Chicago's Kirk Hinrich, Miami's Dwyane Wade, the Knicks' Mike Sweetney and Grizzly Troy Bell -- to endorse the new shoe in a series of TV ads.

The company had been struggling and was bought by Nike in July for $305 million. Converse still operates independently.

The company invented basketball shoes in the early days of the game. The most popular got their name from Taylor, a player who worked for Converse and traveled the country from the 1920s until the 1960s, evangelizing the game and selling shoes.

The new shoe, in stores in November, is the next generation of the "Weapon," a shoe Converse released in 1981.

"That shoe is still sold in hundreds of countries and the company has sold millions of pairs," said Dave Maddocks of Converse. "The new shoe is loaded with a new cushion system." Thus, the Loaded Weapon.

Dr. Leonard Moore, a professor of history and director of African-American studies at Louisiana State University, thinks Converse made a bad mistake.

"It's problematic when you look at the level of violence in the African-American community," he said. "To try and capitalize on misery and fratricide is reprehensible.

"I think it would be wise for them to go back to the drawing board on this one."

Steve Shapiro is a lecturer in the marketing division at Babson College with 30 years of experience at Gillette and six years at Proctor and Gamble.

"The concept of 'loaded' is right out of Marketing 101," he said. "It suggests extra benefits, additional features. So the concept of `loaded' is a good one. But tying it these days to `weapon' is questionable. Unfortunately, the news is kids shooting up kids. A `weapon' that's `loaded' I think is asking for trouble."

Maddocks said Converse conducted focus groups and didn't receive negative feedback.

"We have no second thoughts about the name, whatsoever," Maddocks said. "Sports is loaded with battlefield terminology. This is merely the name of a shoe."

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