When the University of Tennessee shifted its apparel and shoe contracts from Adidas to Nike three years ago, there was an enthusiastic embrace of the new gear from athletes and fans alike. That deal was extended last year by then Athletic Director Dave Hart.
But the Nike deal was not without some controversy, as the Nike brand experts were a big factor in the University deciding to drop the Lady Vols logo and implement a “branding restructure.” Fans forced a reversal of that decision, in part thanks to some pressure from the Tennessee legislature.
Now, a new controversy has arisen for Nike and the University of Tennessee with Nike embracing the controversial and unapologetically anti-National Anthem/American flag and chief kneeler Colin Kaepernick in a new ad campaign for the company. Protests and calls for boycotts have dominated social media in the wake of Nike’s announcement of their new deal with Kaepernick.
Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis has dubbed the Nike decision the “dumbest move” in the brand’s history and pointed out that the decision had cost Nike about a $3 billion loss in market cap based on stock trading Tuesday morning after the announcement.
Currently, the University of Tennessee is locked into a deal with Nike as the official apparel supplier until the 2025-26 academic year. But what are the details of that contract and does the University have any “outs” based upon the actions of Nike. UT reportedly gets a share of sales generated with their brand under the Nike deal. If the Nike decision on Kaepernick diminishes the payments to the University does the school have recourse such as terminating the agreement?
Tennessee Star political editor Steve Gill says that legislators might have a say about the issue. “Similar contracts with Nike reduce the amounts paid to schools if athletes or coaches cover the logo on their shoes by ‘spatting’ them or taping over the swoosh,” Gill pointed out. “While it would be hypocritical for Nike to enforce that provision after putting Kaepernick on a highly-paid pedestal for expressing HIS right to ‘free speech’ that hypocrisy wouldn’t be surprising from a company that has chosen to showcase his complete disrespect for our country and our flag.”
“And shouldn’t Governor Bill Haslam, as Chair of the Board of Trustees and who’s family members are major donors to and supporters of the athletic department, ask the University’s lawyers to review the contract with Nike and determine what options for cancelling the contract are available.” If Nike decides to feature somebody like Harvey Weinstein in their next ad does the University and its fans simple have to “take it,” sort of like the women he abused, Gill wondered.
What if the Knoxville police officers and other law enforcement officials who are absolutely critical for a smooth game day experience suddenly suffer a massive case of “blue flu” rather than offer assistance to a Nike-logo team that promotes a guy who mocked police officers with “pig socks” about the same time he began mocking the American flag and National Anthem?
There are plenty of other clothing options that fans can use to show their “orange and white” devotion to the Vols this Fall that aren’t Nike brands, Gill notes, “and most are a lot less expensive.”