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Monday March 19, 2001

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Just ask Nike

Headline Photo

By Laura Winsky

It was the smell the new shoes gave your gym bag that kept you excited all day long. Basketball as a game in itself is exciting. It's fast paced, and it's a game that gives and demands adrenaline. But there was something about making it through the school day as a junior high school kid, waiting for a chance at practice in the afternoon to try the new shoes out, to show them off.

In my junior high days, Nike was the brand of choice, and the shoe was called "Pegasus." Remember it? Choosing the right colors for the stripes on the shoe could make or break your season.

Let's all give a sigh for childhood nostalgia.

Now, all those memories are tainted. All of us former and current basketball players can go have a little cry and feel sorry for ourselves because you can't even mention the word Nike on our campus without getting a dirty look. Poor us.

UA is a Nike university - a proud, proud Nike cesspool. So, we students have a choice. We can look the other way and hold on tight to our Nike gear. We can get away with that because the Nike brand is shoved in our faces here.

Or, we can begin to acknowledge that little, unhappy fingers make our shoes and apparel.

It's time we face facts.

The situation can't be worded more eloquently than it was by Students Against Sweatshops member Jesse Kirchner.

"When you're buying clothes from the UA bookstore, you're wearing apparel that someone has stitched for you under intolerable conditions. It becomes personal."

And he's right. What's more personal than the idea that someone in very unfortunate conditions has embroidered clothing that touches your skin?

So what are these conditions? Just ask Nike. As a way to appease the less apathetic consumers, Nike has paid companies to monitor their factories. The reports are right on Nike's website. Just follow the link to, where you'll read that "sewing supervisors slap and pull their workers' hair to speed up production."

So what is Nike's solution? Publish the reports. That's all they have to do, because the American buyers can ignore the problem. The misery has been exported to less fortunate countries, so as long as the tired little children aren't sewing our shoes next door, then we continue to feel comfortable buying Nike products.

Which is exactly what SAS would like you to do. Well, they wouldn't exactly recommend you become a Nike fanatic, but they don't support a Nike boycott either.

And this is the big catch.

The UA belongs to the Fair Labor Association, which reports on Nike factories that have ludicrous conditions. Nike then pulls itself out of that town and deserts its workers, leaving them abused and now unemployed. It's a term called a "cut and run."

So, SAS would like us to pour our efforts into the Workers Rights Consortium, which would attempt to force Nike, and other corporations - yes, Gap has problems too - to remain in their factories but upgrade to a livable wage with healthy working conditions.

Until powerful people - like, say, President Likins - step it into gear and demand change, students can continue to voice disapproval. The next time you buy Nike apparel, mail in the receipt with a letter asking that your money be used to increase wages in Mexico, in Indonesia, everywhere. Maybe they'll listen to that.

In the meantime, I'll write this column as I watch the Basket Cats defeat Butler 73-52.

Somehow, in their Nike gear, the victory is not as sweet.