equality
Nike’s new initiative can be summed up in one word. (Courtesy Nike)

The message in Nike’s powerful new ad campaign is delivered by the biggest stars in the sports firmament and it comes as Black History Month is in its second week.

The message is spelled out in black and white, with only the word “EQUALITY,” and the company’s logo. What the company is trying to get across, the week after Under Armour’s Kevin Plank brought down the wrath of one of the company’s biggest stars by praising President Trump’s business acumen and saying he is “a real asset for the country,” comes from images of LeBron James, Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, Victor Cruz, Gabby Douglas, Megan Rapinoe, Dalilah Muhammad and a voice-over that is clear and direct.

“Is this the land history promised?” the narrator asks. “Here,” as images of the white lines of fields and courts are show, “you’re defined by your actions, not your looks or beliefs. Equality should have no boundaries.”

The messages continue as the faces change and Alicia Keys sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” in the ad, directed by Melina Matsoukas. “Opportunity should not discriminate.” “The ball should bounce the same for everyone.”

Sports is the great equalizer, according to the message put together by the Wieden+Kennedy firm: “If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere.”

Sports apparel companies, like Nike and Adidas, are seizing on the message that Under Armour bungled last week, causing Stephen Curry, one of the highest profile athletes on UA’s roster, to say he agreed with Plank that Trump is an asset “if you remove the ‘et’.” Both Nike and Adidas called for inclusiveness last month after Trump’s executive order banning entry to the U.S. of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And the sports apparel industry as a whole appears ready to fight the congressional Republicans’ tax reform plan, which would institute a large new tax on imports.

Nike’s message, coming at a time of weekly protests across the country, is one that athletes, such as James, Curry and Williams, are increasingly embracing, choosing not to stay on the sidelines during this era and bringing along the companies they represent. Nike will take the message to the NBA All-Star Game festivities next weekend, with a sign that dominates the New Orleans skyline. The ad also coincides with Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, which will feature an original short film.

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A four-page advertising spread in the New York Times devoted images of James, Williams and Durant on three of the pages, with what the company’s message on the fourth.

“Is this the land history promised? This field of play. Where the dream of fairness and mutual respect lives on. Where you are defined by actions, not your looks and beliefs. For too long these ideals have taken refuge inside these lines. Equality should have no boundaries. The bond between players should exist between people. Opportunity should be indiscriminate. Worth should outshine color. The ball should bounce the same for everyone. If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere.”

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Nike will, of course, use this as a sales opportunity, but the company also announced that it was partnering with MENTOR and PeacePlayers International and the company says it will donate $5 million this year to those organizations and others “that advance equality in communities across the U.S.”