Is there such a thing as bad publicity in the age of social media?
Sportswear giant Nike obviously think not given their actions this week in signing sprinter Justin Gatlin to a new sponsorship deal. Maybe they thought the world would miss the announcement as they cried into their coco-pops over Zayn Malik leaving One Direction. Maybe they thought Middle England would still be mourning the loss of Jeremy Clarkson to actually care that they want to sponsor someone most people have never heard of.
If you don’t know who Gatlin is, he’s a world class sprinter who according to the latest data projections this week will win the 100m gold ahead of Usain Bolt at the next Athletics world championships and possibly the Rio Olympics. He’s also served two bans for drugs, yes you read that correctly. Not one but two. Third chances anyone? Nike obviously think so.
Now I can see the attraction, he was the fastest man on the planet in 2014. That in itself makes good business sense, and lets be clear Nike is a business. He’ll race in their gear, he’ll get exposure on television when he crosses that finish line with a little swoosh on his chest. As a business what’s not to like about that?
Should we really be surprised by a company that has a long association with drugs cheats, prostitute users, and convicted dog fight organisers all of whom retained sponsorship or had it reinstated once they returned to sport after prison and bans. They did however balk at the child molester and convicted killer and removed them from their roster.
The problem may lie in the psyche of the “Go USA” crowd, the average Budweiser drinking hard working consumer, that goes to the store and buys Nike. They won’t care what Gatlin has done, hey he’s served his time and if he wins when he’s ‘clean’ then this fantastic story of sporting redemption is complete. After all athletes are human, humans make mistakes, some even do it twice. The outrage from the rest of the world that is being seen on social media will be gone in a couple of days, Gatlin will likely win this weekend in Texas, he’ll be on US tv front and centre and somewhere in Oregon a Nike executive will smile in justification. Somewhere in Iowa, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Paris, Bangkok another pair of Nike running shoes will be sold and the world will keep turning.
Sport is fighting a losing battle with drugs, athletics more than most. This decision by one of the sports major sponsors is awful. The athletics fraternity is outraged but that fraternity makes up only a tiny percentage of Nikes customer base. And this story has barely registered anywhere other than online.
Does Nike have a moral right to inspire our children, to promote role models and sporting hero’s that they can aspire to emulate? Do their ambassadors need to stand tall and good? Obviously not, Nike has sent a message to everyone – it’s ok to cheat, if you are world class we will reward you. Granted Gatlin may be world class but he and his sponsor certainly have no class anymore.
Just Dope it.