Menstuff® has information on Nike.

Nike Refuses to Remove “Dope” and “Get High” T-Shirts From Boston Window Display
Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Kathy Lee Gifford, Julie Foudy and the World
Questions and answers about Nike
Nike shoe production in the Third World -- the facts
Facts about Nike
Boycott Sheet (for other reasons)
Nike - Just Don't Do It
Nike Is Leading the Race ... to the Bottom (3/07)
Nike wants to put on its good swoosh - 1/11/02
Still waiting for Nike to do it - Global Exchange (4/05) - 12/2/07
Nike can't Possibly pay its Workers a Living Wage

Questions and answers about Nike

Where does Nike produce shoes?

1- During the 1970's, most Nike shoes were made in South Korea and Taiwan. When workers there gained new freedom to organize and wages began to rise, Nike looked for "greener pastures." It found them in Indonesia, China and most recently Vietnam - countries with no protective labor laws, endless supplies of cheap labor, and authoritarian leaders who outlaw independent labor unions.

2- By 1992, Nike had eliminated nearly all of their U.S. work force in favor of low-wage Asian producers.

Why pick on Nike, if all shoe companies are the same?

1- The Asian-American Free Labor Institute in Indonesia says Nike factory workers file more complaints about wage violations than any other shoe company.

2- Nike has been in Vietnam for less than two years and already one factory official has been convicted of physically abusing workers, another fled the country during a police investigation of sexual-abuse charges and a third is under indictment for abusing workers, as reported in the New York Times.

3- Nike, the biggest shoe company in the world, spends $978 million a year on marketing ploys that "empower" women and inner-city youth to buy overpriced shoes that are made with sweatshop labor.

4- Nike has a responsibility to abide by humane labor practices as defined by their Code of Conduct which says "in the area of human the communities in which we do business - we seek to do not only what is required, but what is expected of a leader." A leader would not lower human rights standards to maximize profits.

Aren't the workers happy to have the factory jobs?

1- Workers risk retaliation and further repression by staging strikes to protest Nike's unfair labor practices. In April 1997, 10,000 Indonesian workers went on strike over wage violation. In the same month, 1,300 workers in Vietnam went on strike demanding a one cent per hour raise and last year 3,000 workers in China went on strike to protest not only low wages, but hazardous working conditions.

2- If Nike sets up shop in a developing country, great things are supposed to happen because the workers need jobs. Yes, they need jobs. What they don't need is physical and verbal abuse by Nike factory supervisors. What they don't need is to work up to 192 overtime hours per month because they don't even make minimum wage at the Nike factories in Dongguan Province in China.

Isn't the minimum wage enough to live on in those countries?

1- If minimum wage was enough, workers would not have to work from 100 - 200 overtime hours per month.

2- The Indonesian government admits minimum wage is only 90% of subsistence needs for one person.

3- U.S. companies like Coca-cola and Goodyear recognize minimum wage is not enough. They are in Indonesia paying above minimum wage and have remained competitive in the global market.

Can Nike afford to pay workers a living wage?

1- Some U.S. companies like New Balance, make most of their shoes in the U.S. paying workers over 30 times what Nike workers get in Vietnam. And New Balance still makes a profit.

2- Less than 10 percent of Nike's 978 million dollar marketing budget could raise the salary of all their factory workers in Asia.

3- Nike has projected revenue at 9 billion dollars for 1997 and the CEO of Nike, Philip Knight is worth 5.2 billion dollars.

G I o b a I E x c h a n g e Phone: 415-255-7296, eMail (not functioning) or 2017 Mission Street, Ste. 303, San Francisco, 94110 or

Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Kathy Lee Gifford, Julie Foudy and the World

Jordan's take from Nike dwarfs even that of Woods, since he has been a pitchman far longer. Nike pays him more in one year than it pays all the workers, mostly women and children, in all the factories which made the shoes. Production labor cost for a $70 shoe is about $2.75, 4%. (1997)

Nike CEO Phil Knight once received $80 million in stock dividends for the previous three month period after one of its Indonesian factories was granted a waiver so it did not have to increase the minimum wage by less than 20 cents per day per worker. It turns out that just two per-cent of Nike's annual marketing budget would double the wages of the people making the shoes and raise them above the poverty level.

Nike shoe production in the Third World -- the facts

Indonesian workers make $2.46 a day

10,000 Indonesians went on strike to protest wages that are below subsistence level.

"If I don't work overtime, I can't survive," says Baltazar at PT Hasi Nike factory in Jakarta. He works an average of 40 overtime hours a week.

Vietnamese workers make $l.60 a day

1,300 workers at the Sam Yang factory went on strike to demand a one cent per hour raise in wages. Other issues include excessive and illegal overtime and compensation for working with hazardous material.

Chinese workers make $1.75 a day

There is no minimum wage in China and when abuses are discovered, the whole factory disappears. "The supervisors will get nervous and move the work to another province. It's impossible to monitor factory conditions," says Asia Monitor Resource Center in Hong Kong.

You pay over $100 for shoes that cost less than five dollars to make.

As a consumer, you can change Nike's unfair labor practices.

Write: Nike Inc.
One Bowerman Drive
Beaverton, OR 97005
800-344-6453 (press 3 for comments)

Philip Knight, CEO of Nike is the sixth richest man in America. He is worth 5 billion dollars and profits off the backs of sweatshop laborers. (52nd Richest man in the world at 8.2 billion.- Forbes, 3/11/09) Phillip Knight, 31 in US, 10.5 billion - Forbes 9/17/08) Phillip Knight, US 24, 9.5 billion, Forbes 9/30/09)

Phillip Knight

Nike is the biggest shoe company in the world because it operates in countries where it is illegal to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Nike can afford to pay endorsers like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Monica Seles a combined total of over 60 million dollars to brand themselves with the swoosh.

Demand that Nike pays overseas factory workers a living wage for an eight hour work day.

Vietnam and China should get $3.00 a day and Indonesia should get $4.00 a day.

For More Information contact Global Exchange: 415-255-7296 or fax 415.255.7498 or eMail or 2017 Mission Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, 94110 or


Behind the Nike spectacle, there is, of course, the unedifying reality of underpaid workers, toiling at sub-subsistence wages and under terrible working conditions to produce highly overpriced shoes for youth, many of which cannot afford and do not need such luxury items.

Nike was one of the first major corporations to shift to a mode of production labelled "post-Fordism" and "flexible accumulation" (Harvey 1989). Shifting production of its shoes from the U.S. to Asia in the early 1980s, Nike first set up factories in Taiwan and South Korea. Both countries had at the time military dictatorships, low wages, and disciplined work forces. They frequently subcontracted work to local companies which would then be responsible for such things as wages, working conditions, and safety. While there were no established unions, the largely women workers in South Korea began organizing in response to poor working conditions, humiliating treatment by bosses, and low wages. At the same time, a democracy movement began in South Korea and at the first sign of labor unrest factory managers called in government riot police to break up employees' meetings. Troops sexually assaulted women workers, stripping them, and rape them 'as a control mechanism for suppressing women's engagement in the labor movement,' reported Jeong-Lim Nam of Hyosung Women's University in Taegu. It didn't work. It didn't work because the feminist activists in groups like the Korean Women Workers Association (KWWA) helped women understand and deal with the assaults.

The KWWA held consciousness-raising sessions in which notions of feminine duty and respectability were tackled along with wages and benefits. They organized independently of the male-led labor unions to ensure that their issues would be taken seriously, in labor negotiations and in the pro-democracy movement as a whole (Enloe 1995: 12).

Conditions and wages improved for Korean women workers, but Nike was in the process of moving production to countries with lower wages and more control of labor, such as China and Indonesia. During the 1990s, Nike's shoes have thus been produced mostly in Asia where the average wage paid to their workers is often below the subsistence level. There was much publicity over Nike's Indonesian sweatshops, where women would be paid approximately $1.20 per day to produce shoes in the early 1990s. In 1992, 6,500 workers in the Sung Hwa Dunia factory in Serang, Indonesia, went on strike and wages were raised to $1.80 a day and eventually to $2.20 a day (Kirshenbaum 1996: 23). Under intense pressure from the Clinton administration to improve working conditions and labor rights, in order not to lose privileged trading status, the Indonesian government raised the minimum wage to (a still pitiful) $1.80 an hour and promised that the military would no longer harass and brutalize workers. But, as Greider reports, the concessions were largely a charade because "despite the official decrees, the military kept on intervening in labor disputes, showing up at the plant gates and arresting strike activists, herding the women back into the factories. This occurred 22 times within the first month following the supposed reform" (1994: 43).

In addition, the companies often refused to pay the workers even the legal minimum wage. The response of the Indonesian workers were a series of wildcat strikes, international campaigns to publicize their plight, and continued efforts to organize workers. Accordingly, Nike sought other sites of production, increasing production in China and then moving to Vietnam where the minimum wage is $30 per month and they can return to the one dollar plus change a day wages of an earlier era. Basing his figures on an analysis by Thuyen Nguyen, an American businessman who studied the conditions of Nike workers in Vietnam, Bob Herbert wrote in a New York Times op ed piece on "Nike's Boot Camps," that Nike workers in Vietnam are paid $1.60 a day while three meager meals cost $2.10 a day, renting a room costs $6 a month, so that Nike's workers are paid subsistant wages and work in conditions described as "military boot camps" with widespread corporal punishment, molestation of women workers, and deteriorating health of the workers (March 31, 1997: A16). There was so much negative publicity concerning working conditions in sweatshops producing Nike gear that the corporation hired Andrew Young to review its labor practices and working conditions (New York Times, March 25, 1997). When Young returned some weeks later with a report that whitewashed Nike, they took out full-page ads to trumpet the results, though generally there was skepticism concerning Young's report and his inadequate inspection of the Asian worker's plight.[7]

Consequently, Nike moves production from country to country to gain ever lower production costs. NAFTA and GATT treaties have made it even easier for Nike and other global corporations to move production across the U.S. border and Nike is thus able to move its production around at will, searching for the lowest labor costs and most easily exploitable working conditions. Meanwhile, its CEO Philip Knight earns millions per year, his stock is worth an incredible $4.5 billion, and Jordan, Andre Agassi, and Spike Lee are paid staggering sums for their endorsements and advertisements (see Herbert 1996). Their profit margins are enormous: Enloe (1995: 13) estimated that for a $70 pair of Nike Pegasus shoes, $1.66 goes for labor; $1.19 to the subcontractor; $9.18 goes for materials; $2.82 for administration and overhead; and Nike thus pockets $22.95 while their retailer takes in $32.20. With the Asian financial crisis, the situation of Nike workers is even more dire. The Village Voice reports that Jeff Ballinger, director of the workers' rights group Press for Change "would like to see Jordan make good on his pledge to visit factories in Southeast Asia where Michaelendorsed products are manufactured. In a cover story for ESPN. The Magazine, Jordan said, 'I want to go to Southeast Asia to see the Nike plants for myself... when basketball is done" (Jockbeat, January 20-26, 1999). Ballinger says that a Jordan visit would highlight the plight of Nike workers in countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia that have been hit by the Asian financial crisis, estimating that "Nike factory wages in Indonesia have dropped to the equivalent of about $1 a day since the currency crash-- while the plummeting value of the rupea has translated into about $40 million in labor-cost savings for Nike" (ibid).

Indeed, Nike engages in superexploitation of both its Third World workers and global consumers. Its products are not more intrinsically valuable than other shoes, but have a certain distinctive sign value that gives them prestige value,[8] that provides its wearers with a mark of social status, and so it can charge $130-140 per pair of shoes, thus earning tremendous profit margins. Nike provides a spectacle of social differentiation that establishes its wearer as cool, as with it, as part of the Nike/superstar spectacle nexus. Nike promises transcendence, a new self, to be like Mike, to fly, to gain respect. It enables the customer to participate in the Nike/Jordan magic, to Be Like Mike, by purchasing the shoes he sells! As the Spike Lee/Michael Jordan ad insists, "it's the shoes!" and those who buy the shoes buy into a life-style, an image, a commodity-spectacle. But a New York Times writer raised the question: "Does being Mike entail any responsibilities beyond doing your best on the court?" And answered: Let's ask Inge Hanson, who runs Harlem RBI, a youth baseball and mentoring program. She was mugged earlier this year by a 14-year-old and his 10-year-oldhenchboys. After they knocked her down and took about $60, a mugger kicked her in the face. The next day, the bruise that had welled up on her left cheek bore the imprint of a Nike swoosh. It lasted for three weeks and she felt sad thinking she was probably robbed to finance a fancier pair of Nikes. "But I can't honestly answer your question," she said. "How could Michael Jordan possibly know that by endorsing sneakers -- sneakers! -- he was involved in a crime? And yet, one does wonder if he has any responsibility to his audience beyond just saying, 'Just Do It!'" (Cited in Lipsyte 1996).

While Michael Jordan tries to present himself as the embodiment of all good and wholesome values, he is clearly tainted by his corporate involvements with Nike in the unholy alliance of commerce, sports spectacle, and celebrity. His symbiosis with Nike is so tight, they are so intertwined with each other, that if Nike is tarnished so too is Jordan (and vice versa -- which is one of the reasons that Hertz moved so quickly to sever its ties with O.J. Simpson after the discovery of the murder of his former wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman). The fate of Nike and Michael Jordan is inextricably intertwined, with Nike taking on Jordan to endorse their products early in his career, helping make him a superstar known to everyone, while the Air Jordan product-line helped reverse declining sales and make Nike an icon of corporate America with a global reach that made Nike products part of the global popular (Andrews 1995). Thus, whereas Jordan was no doubt embarrassed by all the bad publicity that Nike received in 1996, his involvement with the corporation was obviously too deep to "just say no" and sever himself from this symbol of a corporate greed and exploitation.

Concluding Remarks

The media figure of Michael Jordan thus has contradictory effects. While he is a symbol of making it in corporate America, he also is tarnished by the scandals and negative qualities with which the corporations to whom he sells himself are tainted, as well as embodying negative aspects of excessive greed, competitiveness, and other capitalist values. Moreover, although it is positive for members of the underclass to have role models and aspirations to better themselves, it is not clear that sports can provide a means to success for any but a few. The 1995 documentary Hoop Dreams brilliantly documented the failed hopes and illusory dreams of ghetto youth making it in college basketball and the NBA For most would-be stars, it is a false hope to dream of fame and athletic glory, thus it is not clear that Jordan's "Be like Mike" is going to be of much real use to youth. Moreover, the widespread limitation of figures of the black spectacle to sports and entertainment might also contribute to the stereotype, as Mercer suggests (1994), that blacks are all brawn and no brain, or mere spectacular bodies and not substantive persons. Yet some criticism of Jordan as a basketball player has also circulated. Amidst the accolades after his announced retirement, some criticisms emerged of his style and influence on the game. Stating baldly that "I hate Michael Jordan," Jonathan Chait wrote: Whenever I declare this in public, I am met with stammering disbelief, as if I had expressed my desire to rape nuns. But I have my reasons. First, he has helped to change the culture of sports from one emphasizing teamwork to one emphasizing individualism. The NBA has contributed to this by promoting superstars ("Come see Charles Barkley take on Hakeem Olajuwan!"), but Jordan buys into it, too. Once he referred to his teammates as his "supporting cast," and in last year's finals he yelled at a teammate for taking a shot in the clutch moments that he, Jordan, should have taken--after his teammate made the shot. The result is a generation of basketball players who don't know or care how to play as a team. (Slate evening delivery: Tues., Jan. 19, 1999).

Chait also complained that Jordan was "the beneficiary of extremely favorable officiating," that "Jordan has been so spoiled and pampered by his special treatment that he expects a trip to the foul line every time an opponent gets near him, and he whines if he doesn't get it.... The prevailing ethic in American sports used to be teamwork, fair play, and rooting for the underdog. Michael Jordan has inverted this ethic" (ibid). Others noted that Jordan was so competitive and obsessed with winning that he was downright "predatory," as teammate Luc Longley put it: "Opposing player Danny Ainge described Jordan as destroying one opponent like 'an assassin who comes to kill you and then cut your heart out.' Jordan, 'skilled at verbal blood sport,' is hard on teammates and harder still, even merciless, in baiting and belittling his nemesis, [Chicago Bulls general manager] Jerry Krause" (Novak 1999: X3).

Furthermore, his obsession with wealth, highlighted in Spike Lee's nickname for Jordan -- "Money" -- circulates capitalist values and ideals, promoting the commercialization of sports and greed, which many claim has despoiled the noble terrain of sports. Jordan is the prototypical overachiever, pushing to win at all costs with his eyes on the prize of the rewards of success and winning. Moreover, as noted, so far, Jordan has not assumed the political responsibilities taken on by other athletic idols of his race such as Jessie Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, or Muhammad Ali. As Touré put it:

Any cause he might have championed -- from something as morally simple as supporting the candidacy of fellow North Carolinian Harvey Gant, who lost two close Senate races against Satan's cousin, Jesse Helms, to any stand against any sort of American injustice--would have been taken seriously because it was endorsed by Jordan. Yet as careful as he has been at vacuuming every possible penny into his pocket... he has been equally diligent about leaving every bit of political potential on the table. Couldn't the world's greatest endorser have sold us something besides shoes? (Village Voice, January 27-February 5, 1999). Jordan has generally symbolized the decline of politics and replacement of all social values by monetary ones that has characterized the turn-of-the-millenium global economy. Such issues are relevant in assessing the Jordan-effect because superstar celebrities such as Michael Jordan mobilize desire into specific role models, ideals of behavior, and values. They produce an active fantasy life whereby individuals dream that they can "be like Mike," to cite the mantra of the

Gatorade commercial, and emulate their idol's behavior and values. Thus, part of the "Jordaneffect" is the creation of role models, cultural ideals, values, and modes of behavior, and thus scrutiny of what sort of values and behavior the Jordan spectacle promotes is relevant to assessing the cultural significance of the phenomenon.

Because the figures and spectacles of media culture play such an important role in the culture it is therefore important to develop critical insight into how media culture is constructed and functions. In this chapter, I have attempted to theorize the role of the sports spectacle and in particular the significance of the Jordan/Nike nexus in postindustrial America and to articulate the importance for media culture of sports and the representations of a black superstar. I have tried to provide critical insights into the contradictory meanings and effects of the sports spectacle, the ways that sports provides figures and ideologies to reproduce existing values, and the complex meanings and effects of a superstar such as Michael Jordan.

Insight into how media culture works and generates social meanings and ideologies requires a critical media literacy that empowers individuals and undermines the mesmerizing and manipulative aspects of the media spectacle (Kellner 1995 and 1998). Critical cultural studies is thus necessary to help demystify media culture and produce insights into contemporary society and culture. Reflection on the Nike/Jordan nexus reminds us that media culture is one of the sites of construction of the sports/entertainment colossus and of the icons of contemporary society.

Media culture is also the stage in which our social conflicts are played out and our social reality is constructed, so the ways that the dynamics of gender, race, class, and dominant values are played out is crucial for the construction of individual and society in contemporary culture. Since Michael Jordan embodies crucial dynamics of media culture, it is important to understand how the Jordan image functions, its manifold and contradictory effects, and the ways that the Jordan sports/entertainment spectacle embodies social meanings. Since the Jordan adventure is not yet over, his figure remains a source of fascination that should evoke evaluative scrutiny by critical cultural studies and social theory.


Andrews, David L. (1996) "The Fact(s) of Michael Jordan's Blackness: Excavating a Floating Racial Signifier." Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 13, Nr. 2: 125-158.

_______________ (1997) "The (Trans)National Basketball Association: America's Commodity Sign Culture and Global Localization," in A. Cvetovitch and D. Kellner (Eds.), Articulating the Global and the Local. Globalization and Cultural Studies. Boulder, Co.: Westview Press:

Andrews, David, et al (1996) "Jordanscapes: A Preliminary Analysis of the Global Popular," Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 13, Nr. 4: 428-457.

Baudrillard, Jean (1981) For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. St. Louis: Telos Press.

Berlant, Lauren (1994) The Anatomy of National Fantasy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boyd, Todd (1997a) Am I Black Enough for You? Popular Culture From the 'Hood and Beyond. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.

__________ (1997b) "Hoopology 101. Professor Todd Boyd deconstructs the game." LA Weekly, May 23-29: 49.

Cole, Cheryl L. (1996) "American Jordan: P.L.A.Y., Consensus, and Punishment," Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 13, Nr. 4: 366-397

Coplon, Jeff (1996) "The Best. Ever. Anywhere." The New York Times Magazine. April 21: 32-37, 44, 54.

Debord, Guy (1967) Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red.

DeBord, Matthew (1999) "Children of the Jordan Age," Feed, January 29, 1999 ( ).

Denzin, Norman K. "More Rare Air: Michael Jordan on Michael Jordan," Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 13, Nr. 4: 319-324.

Dyson, Michael (1993) Reflecting Black. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Enloe, Cynthia (1995) "The Globetrotting Sneaker." Ms. (March/April): 10-15.

Giroux, Henry (1994) Disturbing Pleasures. New York: Routledge.

Goldman, Robert (1992) Readings Ads Critically. London and New York: Routledge.

Goldman, Robert and Stephen Papson (1996) Sign Wars. New York: Guilford Press.

______________________________ (1999) Nike Culture. London and Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage.

Grass, Stephen (1997) "Blood, Sweat and Shears. The Young and the Feckless," New Republic

Gray, Ann (1997)

Greider, William (1994) "The Global Sweatshop." Rolling Stone (June 30): 43-44.

Halberstam, David (1999) Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made. New York: Random House.

Harvey, David (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Herbert, Bob (1996) "Nike's Pyramid Scheme," The New York Times, June 10, 1996: A19.

Hirschberg, Lynn (1996) "The Big Man Can Deal," The New York Times Magazine, November 17: 46-51, 62-65, 77-78, 82, 88.

Hutchinson, Earl Ofari (1996) Beyond O.J. Race, Sex, and Class Lessons for America. Los Angeles: Middle Passages Press.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno (1972) Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Continuum.

Kellner, Douglas (1995) Media Culture. London and New York: Routledge.

Kirshenbaum, Gayle 1996) "Nike's Nemesis," Ms. (November/December 1996): 23.

Lipsyte, Robert (1996) "Pay for Play: Jordan vs. Old-Timers," The New York Times (July 14): B2.

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Mercer, Kobena (1994) Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies. London and New York: Routledge.

Novak, Robert (1999) "Riding the Air," Washington Post, January 31, 1999: X3

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Smith, Sam (1995) Second Coming. The Strange Odyssey of Michael Jordan--from Courtside to Home Plate and Back Again. New York: HarperCollins.

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*My comments on the sports spectacle and use of Debord draws on work with Steve Best in our book The Postmodern Turn (Guilford, 1997). Thanks to David Andrews for providing material and comments which have helped with the production of this study.

[1]. On the China and Bosnia references, see Dan McGraw and Mike Tharp, "Going out on top," U.S. News and World Report, January 25, 1999: 55. Summing up Jordan's achievements, Jerry Crowe writes: "His resume includes five most-valuable-player awards, 12 All-Star appearances, two Olympic gold medals and a worldwide popularity that filled arenas and boosted the stock of the companies with which he was affiliated" (Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1999: D1). In addition, he garnered six NBA championship rings, ten NBA scoring titles (a record); a 31.5 regular-season scoring average (best of all times), a record 63 points in a playoff game, 5,987 career playoff points (best all time), and made the game-winning shot a record 26 times during his NBA career. Tributes included: Indiana coach Bob Knight who mentored the budding superstar in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics called Jordan: "the greatest basketball player ever... the best player involved in a team sport of any kind"; Coach Pat Riley of the Miami Heat called him "the greatest influence that sports has ever had."; Jerry West, former NBA superstar and executive vice president of the Los Angeles Lakers, called him "the modern day Babe Ruth"; Jason Williams of the New Jersey Nets sanctified him as "Jesus in tennis shoes" (ibid), adding to the Jordan religious iconography coined by Boston Celtics great Larry Bird who marveled "God disguised as Michael Jordan" after Jordan scored 63 points against the Celtics in a 1986 playoff game.

[2]. Halberstam, quoted in People, January 25, 1999: 56. In its front page story on Jordan's retirement, USA Today "employed three 'greats,' five 'greatests,' one 'greatness,' two 'marvelouses,' three 'extraordinarys,' one 'unbelievable,' one 'unmatched,' two 'awe-inspirings,' two 'staggerings,' one 'superstar'" and a superhybolic "great superstar" (Sports Illustrated, January 25, 1999: 32). Television talking heads commenting on Jordan's retirement speculated if he would run for President or "compete with Bill Gates in the business arena" (ibid), while in a completely earnest front-page story the Chicago Tribune suggested that Jordan could be an astronaut (cited in Time, January 25, 1999": 68). But the winner in the Michael Jordan Retirement Hyperbole Contest is Bill Plaschke: "Hearing that you'll never see Michael Jordan play competitive basketball again is hearing that sunsets have been canceled. That star-filled skies have been revoked. That babies are no longer allowed to smile" (Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1999: D1).

[3]. Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (1967) was published in translation in a pirate edition by Black and Red (Detroit) in 1970 and reprinted many times; another edition appeared in 1983 and a new translation in 1994, thus, in the following discussion, I cite references to the numbered paragraphs of Debord's text to make it easier for those with different editions to follow my reading. The key texts of the Situationists and many interesting commentaries are found on various Web sites, producing a curious afterlife for Situationist ideas and practices. For further discussion of the Situationists, see Best and Kellner 1997, Chapter 3.

[4]. For the complex events that led Jordan to this seemingly bizarre decision, see Smith 1995 and Halberstam 1999. During 1993, Jordan's gambling habits were criticized and increasingly the subject of scrutiny, and when his father was mysteriously murdered there were speculations that the murder was related to gambling debts, the NBA intensified its scrutiny of Jordan, and he abruptly quit basketball to pursue a quixotic and failed minor league baseball career, returning to professional basketball 18 months later to achieve his greatest athletic triumphs.

[5]. This line frequently appeared in interviews upon Jordan's retirement by Mark Vancil who edited the Rare Air Jordan photography books and has been regularly promoted by commentators since the mid-1990s. Frank Deford argued in the Sports Illustrated collector's issue published after Jordan's retirement that Jordan is not "a creature of color" and transcends the racial divisions that have so sundered U.S. society. Matthew DeBord has recently written that Jordan is "trans-racial, the first African American cultural hero to massively evade blaxploitation by rising above it, elevating to a zone of rarefied commerce where the only pigment that anyone worries about is green" (1999). At times in Jordan's reception, this transcendence of race appears to be taking place, but such claims ignore the negative press of 1993 and the fact that African Americans celebrities can easily become whipping boys as well as poster boys. For a more nuanced analysis of the stages of Jordan's racial signification, see Andrews in this volume. For a critique of the oft-cited claim that Jordan transcends race, see the article by Leon E. Wynter, "The Jordan Effect: What's race got to do with it?" Salon (January 29, 1999).

[6]. Of course, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights movement did more to dramatize the plight of African Americans, but I would argue that sports and entertainment helped promote the interests of blacks and that the tremendous achievements of black athletes, music performers, and entertainers were essential in getting mainstream America to accept and respect blacks and to allow them into the mainstream -- in however limited and problematic a fashion.

[7]. For a detailed critique of Young's report, see the study by Grass 1997.

[8]. On the concept of sign value, see Baudrillard 1981; Goldman 1992; and Goldman and Papson 1996.

Nike: How cool is exploitation?

Image is a vital to the success of the giant international sports footwear and apparel corporation Nike. Endorsements by sports superstars like basketballer Michael Jordan, soccer maestro Eric Cantona and sprinting ace Cathy Freeman -- to name just a very few -- have made the company's "Swoosh" logo synonymous with "cool" for millions of young people worldwide. That image would be badly tarnished if it became widely known that the Nike empire is built on cheap Third World labour (including child labour), denial of trade union rights and collaboration with repressive regimes, most notably the Suharto regime in Indonesia.

Nike Australia's public relations spokesperson, Megan Ryan, was coy about how much the company spends on marketing and sponsorship when Green Left Weekly spoke to her.

She refused to disclose how much it pays top athletes to endorse its products. She said Nike sought to sponsor, and be endorsed by, the "best athletes possible" as a recognition of their achievements. The only image Nike sought from association with sports mega-heroes was to be recognised as an "authentic" sports brand. "Nike is not a fashion brand", she insisted.

Perhaps Ryan hasn't stood on a city street corner, or in a suburban shopping centre, to see just how much Nike gear has become part of youth culture. This is in large part due to the "street cred" that comes from being associated with the likes of the larger-than-life Michael Jordan and the outrageous "dunk-punk" Dennis Rodman, US NBA basketball -- according to one poll, the most popular sport among Australian young people -- and, indirectly, African-American fashion and music.

Okay, Ryan finally conceded, there is "some flow-through effect". In fact, more than 60% of Nike sales are to non-athletes.

To achieve this "flow-through effect" Nike pays Jordan, the jewel in its endorsement crown, an estimated US$20 million a year to have a sandshoe named after him. In 1992, the company forked out $250 million on its advertising and promotion budget alone. Nike advertisements appear in magazines not noted for their sports content, such as Rolling Stone and the Source, the premier US hip hop magazine.

Nike billboards have featured the Swoosh symbol painted by street graffiti artists, and flying basketballers letting loose with technical sports terms like: "I'm gonna dunk on your ass". And, of course, Nike has a home page on the World Wide Web where athletic Web surfers are urged to "hear Spike Lee talk about the Air Jordan XI, call 1-800-645-6031" (perhaps Spike jogs?).

Nike has a penchant for sponsoring aggressive young sports people with a rebel image or who succeed against the odds, reflected in the Nike slogan "Just Do It". This explains the high profile given to African-American athletes. Nike's international stable of stars includes tennis brat Andre Agassi, US basketball stars Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley, outspokenly anti-racist French soccer hero Eric Cantona, world record-holder and 1996 Olympics track sensation Michael Johnson and the US Olympic team.

Its Australian contingent includes Cathy Freeman, high jumper Tim Forsyth, marathon runner Steve Monaghetti, test cricketers Shane Warne, Michael Slater, Ricky Ponting and Glen McGrath, the AFL's North Melbourne, Melbourne and Fremantle teams, Super League's Brisbane Broncos, Canberra Raiders and Sydney Bulldogs as well as sundry individual Murdoch-aligned players, basketball's North Melbourne Giants, Brisbane Bullets and Adelaide, as well as four members of the Australian netball team.

For young people under capitalism, especially the poorest and most discriminated against, one of the few routes out of poverty and hopelessness is through individual success in sport or music.

In the US, sports people and musicians -- especially black basketballers and hip hop artists -- are idolised. The outfits of the sports fields influence street fashion -- the baggy shorts, the baseball hats, the basketball singlets, the sandshoes -- and this street fashion in turn is reflected on the hip hop stage. African-American and minority youth culture influences white youth in the US, and youth throughout the world. It is no coincidence that working-class Australian kids from migrant backgrounds keenly identify with hip hop and basketball.

The "flow-through effect" of all this prestige and street cred helps Nike sell hundreds of thousands of shoes at between $120 and $230 a pair to many young people who can ill afford them. In 1990, Jesse Jackson and the civil rights group Operation PUSH charged that Nike sold more than 40% of its shoes to members of the black and minority communities, yet little of that income remained in the communities. PUSH was outraged at reports of African-American youth killing each other to steal shoes that they could not afford, saying that Nike targets poor urban kids in its hard sell. Surveys show that 77% of teenage men in the US want to wear Nikes. More than half of all Nike's sales and 75% of its basketball shoe sales are to people under 25.

At the time, Nike denied that it singled out young, poor, minority youth but "we do sell to psychographic segments", a spokesperson told Sports Illustrated. "Such as people who love only basketball. We sell to passions and states of mind, not by age, address or ethnicity." Despite a ban on the use of the word "fashion" by Nike execs, a spokesperson conceded that Nike makes "shoelaces longer because of lacing styles favoured by the kids. All the kids leave the tags on certain shoes, so we've made the tags look nicer."

A sports shop owner in predominantly black Newark was more straightforward: "Most of the people in this store, their lives are shit, their homes in the projects are shit, and it's not like they don't know it. There's no drop-in centre around here any more, and no place to go that they can think of as their own. So they come to my store. They buy these shoes just like other kinds of Americans buy fancy cars and new suits. It's all about trying to find some status in the world."

But this "cool", "rebellious" and aggressive image, with its subliminal theme of overcoming an unfair society through effort and commitment, is a cruel, multimillion-dollar hoax.

Founder Phil Knight's Nike empire, worth US$5 billion according to Fortune magazine, has been built over three decades on advertising hype and exploiting Third World labour, poor working conditions, denial of trade union rights and collaboration with repressive regimes. Nike's corporate motto of "enhancing people's lives through sports and fitness" does not extend to workers toiling in its Third World sweatshops.

Nike began in 1962 as Blue Ribbon Sports. From the beginning its strategy was based on outsourcing production to low-wage Asian countries, first to Japan. When wages improved there, Nike operations shifted to South Korea and Taiwan. Indonesia is now Nike's main production centre, where 120,000 workers receive a paltry A$2.80 a day. Human rights organisations charge that child labour is not uncommon. A bottom-of-the-line pair of Nike basketball boots on sale in Australia would cost an Indonesian worker 40 days' wages.

Nike's operations moved to Indonesia (as well as China, Thailand and, most recently, Vietnam) from South Korea in the late '80s after rising worker militancy forced Seoul to permit workers to organise. The Indonesian dictatorship promised low wages and an environment where strikes are not allowed and trade unions independent of the regime are forbidden.

Attempts to organise to improve conditions are met with repression. "Employers always call the police, and they come and interrogate the workers", Apong Herlima of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation told a reporter in March. "Then the workers are fired."

Last October, Tongris Situmorang, a worker at a Nike factory in Serang, was sacked and then locked in a store room and questioned by military goons for five days after leading a strike demanding payment of the legal minimum wage.

Nike's carefully constructed image has taken a battering in the US in recent weeks as human rights and social justice activists have highlighted Nike's role in exploiting Indonesian workers. Former Nike worker Cicih Sukaesih toured the US in July. Sukaesih attempted to meet with Michael Jordan in Chicago and Phillip Knight at the company's head office in Portland, Oregon, without success. While in Portland, she tried on a Nike shoe for the first time in her life.

Sukaesih said she wanted to ask Jordan why is he accepting millions of dollars from a company that so blatantly takes advantage of its cheap labour force. "Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi and Spike Lee make us forget the real heroes behind the Nike image", Sukaesih told the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "They are the labourers faced with forced overtime, minimum-wage violations, illegally low training wages, and abusive employers in countries such as China, South Korea and Indonesia to which Nike has contracted its manufacturing."

Sukaesih said that in the Jakarta factory where she worked in 1992, supervisors would beat and yell at workers to make them work faster and refuse to let them go to the toilet. They were paid below the government minimum wage and forced to do unpaid overtime. When the company began to deduct money from workers' pay for lunch, she led a strike of 6500 workers.

The workers won a pay increase and free meals, but a month later Sukaesih was detained and interrogated by police and later she and 24 others were sacked. She remains on a blacklist that has kept her unemployed ever since.

Sukaesih's US tour is being sponsored by a coalition called the Working Group on Nike. It is demanding that Nike allow independent monitoring of its factories by Indonesian human rights groups, that Nike allow workers to organise free trade unions in its factories, that workers be paid a living wage and that Nike stop using child labour. The coalition is planning monthly North America-wide pickets of Nike retail outlets beginning September 14.

While there is no similar campaign in Australia, Jo Brown, spokesperson for Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, told Green Left Weekly that Australian activists should do all in their power to support the movement for democracy in Indonesia to bring an end to the Suharto regime which allows such exploitation and repression.
Source: From: Archives, Green Left Weekly issue #244 28 August 1996,

Nike Refuses to Remove “Dope” and “Get High” T-Shirts From Boston Window Display

Nike is refusing Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s request that the company remove a window display with T-shirts that say “Dope” and “Get High” in one of their stores.

The mayor asked the Niketown store in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood to remove the T-shirts, saying they contain drug references and profanity that “are out of keeping with the character of Boston’s Back Bay, our entire city, and our aspirations for our young people…not to mention common sense,” the Boston Herald reports. The shirts also feature pill bottles, according to the article.

In a statement, the company said, “In no way does Nike condone the use of banned or illegal substances. This is about sport and being authentic to action sports. The shirts are part of an action sports campaign, featuring marquee athletes using commonly used and accepted expression for performance at the highest level of their sport, be it surfing, skate or BMX.”

Nike can't Possibly pay its Workers a Minimum Wage, Much Less a Living Wage

The following is a composite view of some of the commitments Nike has or has had with celebrities:

Andre Agassi - tennis
Charles Barkley - NBA
Eric Cantona, anti-racist French soccer hero
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -stock cars
LeBron James - King James - $90mil 7 years, starting in 2003-2017 ($12,857,142/year.)
Michael Johnson, world record-holder and 1996 Olympics track sensation and US Olympic team.
Michael Jordan - NBA - How much does Nike pay Jordan - $45 million
Manny Pacquiano - boxer -
Dennis Rodman - NBA
Maria Sharapova - tennis
Tiger Woods signed in 1996 $20mil a year for 10 years. 8/25/99 BBC News reported $90M over the next five years and said Nike signed him in 1996 for a five year contract of $40M (Nike stepped into the breach and now pays Woods $18m a year for the next five years, while the deal with Titleist was "restructured" to reflect his new commitments.) $30million+ in 2009
Michigan State, Georgetown, Califonrnia and the American East Conference

Its Australian contingent includes

Cathy Freeman,
high jumper Tim Forsyth,
marathon runner Steve Monaghetti,
test cricketers Shane Warne, Michael Slater, Ricky Ponting and Glen McGrath,
the AFL's North Melbourne, Melbourne and Fremantle teams,
Super League's Brisbane Broncos,
Canberra Raiders and Sydney Bulldogs
as well as sundry individual Murdoch-aligned players,
basketball's North Melbourne Giants,
Brisbane Bullets and Adelaide,
four members of the Australian netball team.

With all of those commitments (contracts), how could Nike possibly pay its workers a living wage?

*    *    *

I gave all the clothing I had with the Nike logo on it to the homeless.

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