Was Nike Chairman Phil Knight Right To Speak Up On Behalf Of Joe Paterno?
On Thursday afternoon, Joe Paterno was laid to rest. And, as you might expect, the memorial service held on the campus of Penn State University was a bit of a zoo. There were what seemed like about 100 different speakers. There were people crying and getting emotional in their seats. And there were plenty of famous folks on hand to honor the late, great football coach. Oh, and, of course, all of this was done against the backdrop of a sexual abuse scandal at the school that is still very fresh in everyone’s mind.
However, one person at the service not named Joe Paterno did manage to steal the show. That man: Nike Chairman Phil Knight, who spoke about Coach Paterno for a few minutes and, somewhat surprisingly, used his time to talk about the fact that he doesn’t believe Joe Paterno deserved to go out the way he did. He ripped into the trustees at Penn State who fired Paterno for his role in Jerry Sandusky‘s sexual abuse scandal. He revealed that he was very close to Paterno and that he considered him a mentor and a “hero” of sorts. And he eventually earned a round of applause from the crowd that lasted for a few minutes when he revealed that he doesn’t think Paterno should have been blamed for the scandal that took place on his watch.
If nothing else, it was a very powerful moment. But, should Knight have been up on stage publicly backing Paterno as hard as he did? After all, he’s the chairman at Nike and, for that reason alone, some people have argued that he should have kept his opinions to himself and stuck to speaking solely about his relationship with Paterno and not the scandal. However, wasn’t it nice to see someone from Nike stand up and actually take a stand for once? Over the years, the Swoosh has been criticized for not taking stands on important issues. It’s one of the major criticisms of Michael Jordan‘s career—that he put selling sneakers above speaking out against injustices around the world and important issues. So with so many people out there afraid to speak their minds about Paterno right now, it was actually kind of nice to see Knight unafraid to do it.
And, you know what? It doesn’t change the way we feel about Nike one bit. We won’t support them any more or less than we did a few days ago and we won’t start or stop wearing Nikes simply because Knight spoke out in favor of Paterno in regards to the scandal. That should tell him—and Nike as a whole—something. In the future, they should feel free to speak up and use their power and influence in America to do more than just sell sneakers. Because on Thursday afternoon, Joe Paterno was laid to rest. And so was Nike’s unwillingness to have a real opinion about things that matter. And whether you agree or disagree with him, what Phil Knight did was a good thing for the Nike brand. We just hope he’s not afraid to do it again in the future.