The world’s foremost name in sporting apparel isn’t just dipping its toe in the waters of expression and acceptance. It’s diving in headfirst. After signing the WNBA’s Brittney Griner to a contract that has her market and wear men’s clothing as well as women’s apparel, and makes her the company’s first openly gay athlete, Nike released the second edition of its #BeTrue line of shoes and sportswear last week.
The line, which openly gay NBA player Jason Collins wore to Boston’s Pride Parade this weekend, is “in celebration of sport as a universal language,” according to Nike, and includes shoes, t-shirts, and flip-flops with rainbow prints and the line’s #BeTrue name. Like the original line Nike released last year, profits will go to the LGBT Sports Coalition, an organization that is aiming to end homophobic discrimination in sports by 2016. Nike is a member of the coalition and is hosting its second annual LGBT Sports Summit this week in Portland, Oregon.
Here’s Nike’s Free Run 5.0 that is featured in the Pride collection:
Nike isn’t just marketing the line to LGBT athletes, and I’m not sure its marketing is limited to those sympathetic with LGBT causes either. Nike has been pushing itself toward this point for quite some time with its bright colors and mismatching pairs of shoes that were probably too loud and fashion-conscious for the stereotypical straight male athlete and apparel-buyer in years past. But with this line, and by using Griner to sell men’s clothing, the company is going a step farther. Nike is no longer working behind the scenes for LGBT causes; rather, it’s out front. And it’s out front at least in part because it can make money, whether for its company or its cause, by being there.
That’s possible because sports fashion is back in the news in a way it hasn’t been since maybe the 1970s, when the story was Clyde Frazier’s leisure suits and mink coats, the ‘fros, and Joe Namath’s Broadway extravagance. This time, though, it’s different. The NBA dress code sparked a fashion wave of players showing off bold colors and tight fits, odd frames and weird patterns, cardigans and capris. Griner and other female athletes are donning men’s suits and jeans, bow ties and button-downs. All this experimentation is pushing and redefining traditional gender norms, and while that’s still drawing negative responses from some, it’s drawing admiration and enjoyment from most. It’s also causing fans and admirers to experiment alongside them, giving Nike and other companies further incentive to ignore the norms to which they once felt they had to adhere.
And so we get a pair of shoes that are fashionable and for a good cause, loud enough to at once both stand out and fit right in — just like the new people Nike is using to sell its products and plenty of the people who will end up buying them.