Student-athletes and other members of the university community are calling attention to the unethical business practices of Nike by launching an awareness campaign.
The movement, seeking to put pressure on the department and company’s partnership, marks a turning point in the relationship between Georgetown Athletics and Nike, which began in the 1970s. Currently, the athletics department provides student-athletes with Nike apparel.
The students were motivated by a discussion led by anti-sweatshop activist Jim Keady on Monday, which addressed poor working and living conditions at the company’s factories in Southeast Asia.
After the event, audience members, including student-athletes, participated in a discussion on how to raise awareness about Nike’s practices, which culminated in the formation of an informal student group focused on the issue. The group held its first meeting to discuss strategy Thursday night and will announce its initiatives soon.
Sports Information staff were unable to provide comments from the student-athletes at press time.
On Tuesday, Keady shared a photo on Facebook showing the Nike logo covered with tape on the university-provided sneakers of three Georgetown student-athletes. The picture has received 496 likes and been shared 388 times as of press time.
According to Keady, the tentative goal of the movement is for the Georgetown community to partner with a specific factory or factories and serve as a voice for workers’ rights. He said students need to further increase awareness about the issue on campus as part of the campaign.
“[Students] need to take provocative public action so that they will have the support of the community because the community understands what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Keady said.
According to the Student-Athlete Equipment Agreement, to which all student-athletes must adhere upon joining the university, student-athletes are not allowed to alter university-provided apparel.
“Never cut, tape or alter any issued equipment or apparel,” the agreement states. “Any unauthorized altered equipment or apparel will result in a bill to the student-athlete to replace the item.”
Justice and peace studies professor Eli McCarthy worked to bring Keady to campus. McCarthy said that an important aspect of the movement will revolve around how Georgetown, as a community, can work together in solidarity with workers, in light of the university’s relationship with Nike.
“A lot is going to depend on passion of students and their creativity and wisdom,” McCarthy said. “As a school in the nation’s capital and as a Jesuit school with a good reputation for intellectual thinking and social justice, there is definitely potential within the system to broaden this out.”
Nike’s relationship with Georgetown Athletics has come under scrutiny in recent years. An article in The Washington Post from October 2012 detailed the relationship between men’s basketball Head Coach John Thompson III and Nike. Thompson sits on the Nike board and is a friend of Nike CEO Mark Parker.
Jacob Maxmin (COL ’17), the founder of Wearable Justice, a socially conscious clothing company on campus, attended the event Monday. He said he is eager to join the movement and work with student-athletes rallying behind the cause of anti-sweatshop labor.
“I believe that our Jesuit and Catholic identity should be the driving factor for everything we do,” Maxmin said. “I think students are really looking to make a statement, and they want to raise awareness on campus about Nike’s labor practices. This lines up perfectly with Wearable Justice’s mission.”
The Georgetown University Bookstore committed to the anti-sweatshop movement when it began to sell apparel from Alta Gracia, a clothing factory that provides fair wages to workers, in 2014.
Keady said the eagerness he has seen from students is unprecedented.
“The swift and excited response I got from student-athletes on Monday night at Georgetown is very unique,” Keady said. “They are potentially putting their spots on the team or their scholarships in jeopardy. … It takes a tremendous amount of courage, and I am going to support them every step of the way.”
Keady was a graduate assistant soccer coach at St. John’s University in the late 1990s. After Nike approached the team to negotiate a flagship endorsement deal, Keady expressed opposition upon learning about low wages and abuse at Nike factories. The university forced him to resign, and since then, he has worked as an advocate for workers.
In the summer of 2000, Keady lived on workers’ wages with Nike employees at a slum in Indonesia.
“In the time I was there, I met all of these mostly young women workers who made the stuff that as a college athlete and as a coach that I had worn for years,” Keady said. “I had never thought about who they were or what their lives were like. I promised them I would go home, tell their stories and advocate for them.”
Theology professor Kerry Danner-McDonald asked a number of her students to attend Keady’s talk. She emphasized the degree to which the movement against sweatshop labor aligns with the university’s Jesuit mission.
“The Catholic Church has had a consistently strong statement about the economy needing to work for the dignity of the person.” Danner-McDonald said. “We want students to be men and women for others. We talk about faith and justice, and even more so we about ‘ad maiorem Dei gloriam’ or ‘for the greater glory of God.’”
Keady urged students who wish to become involved to educate both themselves and the campus. He said the Jesuit community has a moral responsibility to rally behind students who choose to protest the contract Georgetown has with Nike.
“They should put those coaches in line and let them know that the Jesuit mission and the commitment to developing women and men for others supersedes any contract that Georgetown has with an athletic company.” Keady said. “If young women and men are willing to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless … the full weight of the Jesuit community should be behind those student athletes.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that the group planned to boycott Nike. Student-athletes have since clarified their goal as raising awareness of Nike’s business practices. The article has been changed from its original title “Calls for Nike Boycott Mount.”