Nike’s Poster Child
For a little-known quarterback from out west, the University of Oregon’s Joey Harrington sure casts a large shadow over the intersection of 33rd and Seventh. But it’s the shadowy forces behind the $250,000 banner—which touts Heisman hopeful Harrington—that are angering many of his fellow Oregonians.
From the O on Harrington’s helmet, a logo that Nike designed and formerly owned, to the prominent swooshes on his jersey and cleats, the 12-story-high image promotes Nike’s sweatshop-based empire as much as it does the quarterback.
“I find it disgusting that the athletic department is wasting all this money,” says Randy Newnham, a co-coordinator of the Survival Center, a student activist group on the Eugene campus. Oregon professors are also registering their contempt, and for good reason. “Our faculty have some of the lowest salaries in the nation,” says Newnham, “and this is an affront to that.”
The university insists that the banner’s giant photo of Harrington—whose last name is crossed out grafitti-style and replaced with the word Heisman—was funded by a group of eight to 10 confidential donors. But the strong connection between Oregon’s football team and Nike raises several questions about the secret benefactors.
Greg Walker, the school’s assistant director of media services, tells Jockbeat that he doesn’t know their identities. But when asked whether Nike was involved in paying for the banner, he says, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Wieden and Kennedy, the Portland ad agency that bought space for the banner, also handles advertising for Nike, and referred Jockbeat’s questions to Nike before calling back to note with alarm that the earlier referral was “misinformed.”
The university’s link to Nike is even more direct. Nike CEO Phil Knight is not only an Oregon grad but also a football booster who can often be found roaming the sidelines. Earlier this year, Knight threatened to withhold a $3 million donation to Oregon’s athletic department after the school joined the anti-sweatshop Worker Rights Consortium. University president Dave Frohnmayer bowed to Knight’s pressure and backed out of the consortium, prompting the student newspaper’s editorial board to proclaim, “This University has earned its nickname of Nike U.”
The Washington Post headlines called Cal Ripken Jr. “The Ultimate Team Player” and “The Most Respected Player in Baseball.” The normally level-headed Thomas Boswell gushed, “Cal Ripken is worth these final cheers and deeply felt farewells because he’s exactly what he seems to be. Only more so.” But it seems to us that what Ripken is is the most selfish player in baseball, maybe even in baseball history.
Heresy? Look at the numbers. In his sophomore season, Ripken won the MVP award and helped the Orioles to the World Championship hitting .318 with 27 homers. Do you know how many times he reached either of those two relatively modest milestones over the next 18 seasons? Exactly once. How many subsequent trips to the Fall Classic? Nada. Whereas most Major League careers resemble a bell curve, with a long period of increasing productivity, Ripken’s is a ski slope, a gradual inexorable decline, with one single bump in his other MVP year of 1991.
Could this statistical anomaly have anything to do with the fact that, in his obsessive pursuit of a purely personal record, Ripken insisted on playing every game for 15 years? All this for an overblown perfect attendance mark? Wouldn’t the Orioles have been better off if Mr. Ultimate Team Player had taken a day off now and then?
The outpouring surrounding Ripken’s announcement stands in stark contrast with the treatment accorded to his contemporary, Rickey Henderson. Henderson has been a far better player by virtually any measure, and is still making a meaningful assault on the record books, snagging the career walks record held by Babe Ruth and chasing the career runs scored record held by Ty Cobb. And yet the news in April that the Padres might release Henderson before he caught Cobb was greeted with a collective yawn.
Farewell tour? While the Yankees sold out the final 19,000 tickets in one afternoon for Ripken’s swan song, the Mets drew barely that figure for a mid-May three-game stand that could represent Henderson’s last trip to New York. Sure, we’ll bid Ripken farewell at the Stadium in October. But all he’ll get from us is a Bronx cheer.
Mixin’ It Up
Shane “the Dribbling Machine” Woney, longtime streetball point guard, dribbled down the left wing like a rocket. Rather than take the open finger roll, however, Shane slowed up, turned halfway around, and bounced the ball between his legs. Suddenly, from the opposite wing came Waliyy “the Main Event” Dixon, another playground prodigy, who caught the ball at its peak, spun 360 degrees, and threw down a ferocious jam. The overflow crowd exploded.
Another night at Rucker Park? Not exactly. The dunk came Sunday afternoon at Harlem’s Riverbank Park—the top highlight in a game designed specifically to produce highlights. Played between two de facto playground All-Star teams and filmed by five And1-hired cameramen, the game was designed essentially to produce footage for the company’s next Mix Tape.
For the uninformed, the And1 Mix Tapes are a phenomenon that began in 1999 when the basketball sneaker company released its first reel of killer moves caught on video. Volume 1 starred Queens native Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston as he embarrassed defenders from Harlem to L.A. The tapes and their rep have grown immeasurably since then. “There’s over 250,000 copies of that [Volume 1] tape out now, and our last two have been even more successful,” said And1 spokesperson Kristen Weil.
The 25-minute tapes don’t actually get sold (save for on the black market or eBay), but rather come free with an And1 purchase at Foot Action stores. When Volume 1 became such a hit, And1 came out with Volumes 2 and 3 from other collected footage, and then started a tour of sorts, where the players play, And1 gets marketed, and highlight-level moves are demanded. The results of last year’s tour will be available July 14, when Volume 4 is released, and as we said, New York marked the beginning of the Volume 5 tour, with further stops planned for Chicago, Philadelphia, and L.A.
“I never thought the way I played would branch off into anything like this,” said Alston, the rare playground baller who made it to the other side of the fence—the NBA—where he’s played with the Milwaukee Bucks for two years. “I just did all this stuff for fun, on top of learning the right way to play. A lot of people like it, though.”
Contributors: Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, Allen St. John, Ben Osborne
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 26, 2001