My burn on the Penn State-Nike relationship: Just accept it
My survey of multiple Penn State football-loving on-line communities turns up no garments on fire and very little appetite for mixing politics with football.
But there are always a few trolls out there who will start a thread by (innocently?) asking, “So, what do we do about the PSU-Nike connection now that the company has made Colin Kaepernick the center of its latest ad campaign?”
Nothing. The answer is, we do nothing.
The Swoosh is so woven into the fabric of college athletics that it’s pointless to imagine Nike being marginalized any time soon. Don’t waste your breath, or your lighter fluid.
According to a footballscoop.com article, almost two-thirds of Power 5 programs wear Nike apparel. In the Big Ten, 8 of the 14 schools don the Swoosh, including East Division powers Ohio State and Michigan along with the Nittany Lions. Nike has outfitted 100 percent of the College Football Playoff participants, all nine of them.
The greatest sneaker company ever and the exiled NFL quarterback have formed a mutually useful alliance — they’re garnering attention for each other. If there are fans out there somewhere crouched over smoldering Nittany-Nike paraphernalia, they’re only helping that cause.
Nike is trying to sell stuff. Provocative advertising is one of its tools.
If people really want to take issue with Nike, they would do well to follow the lead of students — at Penn State and around the country — protesting working conditions in third world countries. As the student newspaper the Daily Collegian pointed out last year, Penn State is leaning toward gently persuading Nike to change rather than shunning the company.
That makes sense, given the long history of the relationship and that any other apparel company would bring similar baggage. Nike is the devil we know, the one able to get Joe Paterno’s blessing to put corporate logos on our beloved plain, basic uniforms.
Penn State football gave up its independence 25 years ago, joining the B1G and the Nike family in 1993.
The strong personal relationship between Paterno and Nike founder Phil Knight overlapped the business partnership. Principled but also pragmatic, Paterno changed with the shifting landscape of college athletics. Taking Nike’s money was no different than opening up the passing game with Kerry Collins at quarterback. The situation called for it.
If the uniforms are a little less pristine, they’re still pretty darn sharp. The Swoosh complements the sleek Lion logo. I’ve got a couple of Penn State golf shirts with Nike logos, and I’m not planning to mutilate them in any way.
Come Saturday, I’ll be at Beaver Stadium, wearing something “Penn State.” Depending on the weather, it may or may not have a Swoosh. I don’t care either way, as long as it has the Lion.
Penn State and Nike are entwined. There’s no getting around it. There’s no reason to get huffy just because Nike also links its brand to Ohio State. Or to Kaepernick, who played his college ball at Nevada — an Adidas school.
Contractually, the Lions will be rocking the Swoosh through 2022, and they’ll probably re-up.
Just accept it.