Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, sat back in his chair. He steepled his hands. He closed his eyes. He considered – not for the first time in his 39-year career with the sports apparel powerhouse – the difficulty of balancing progress, profit, and meaningful action in a publicly shared company. And now, more so than ever before, in a country riven by debate, demonstration, and counter-demonstration.
“I think I like the last one,” he said, eyeing up a high formation of strewn cirrus clouds, filtering in from the nearby Pacific Ocean. “Let’s hear them again, from the top.”
In a clean, well-lighted boardroom in the shoe giant’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, the affable – but no cow-manure – executive was going over options for the new Nike slogan, to be ushered out at the same time as the announcement that Colin Kaepernick would be one of the key faces of the company’s 30th anniversary campaign.
“Ok,” said Dirk-Jan van Hameren, Nike’s chief marketing officer, adjusting himself in his seat at the glass table. “Number one. Just set your misguided, selective, unhelpful patriotism aside and listen godammit. Do it.”
Parker scrunched his face. “A little wordy.”
Van Hameren nodded, before continuing.
“Number two: Just Unfuck Yourself.”
Mark raised his eyebrows thoughtfully.
“Not bad. But pretty confrontational. And probably an unrealistic ask. Let’s hear number three one more time.”
Dirk took a breath, looked around the table at the gathering of some of the most powerful executives in the United States, then said:
The room was silent. Out beyond the spacious, climate-controlled room – with its UV-shielded, shatterproof, lightly tinted, spotless windows, and clear view to a distant horizon – millions of Americans were living their lives. Some believing that a person’s right to protest had limits that should not be crossed, such as standing for a national anthem, and flag. But many others adamant that a much greater, and more sacrosanct boundary was being regularly violated across the country; that of a person’s right to be treated equally and without fear of violence by those sworn to serve and protect them, regardless of that person’s colour.
Everyone at the table nodded.
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s the one,” said Parker.