Earlier this year, Nike, the world’s largest sporting apparel company and an absolute icon in sports, launched a line of shoes and other products meant to promote LGBT equality in sports. The #BeTrue line wasn’t just a marketing ploy from Nike, since it also pledged to donate all proceeds from the shoes and clothing line to the LGBT Sports Coalition, which is fighting to end homophobia in sports by 2016.
In October, that promise came to fruition when Nike donated $200,000 to the coalition. The donation, according to Campus Pride, one of the groups affiliated with the coalition, is the first-ever made to the LGBT Sports Coalition and the largest Nike’s employee network has ever made to an LGBT cause. The funds will go to support all of the projects the coalition has worked on since Nike sponsored the first-ever LGBT Sports Summit at its headquarters in June 2012, the same year it launched the #BeTrue apparel line.
“Today we need more corporations to speak up and take a stand against anti-LGBT bias and bullying in sports,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said in the release. And I think that’s a key point that Nike’s partnership here is going to drive home.
That a huge company like Nike jumped to the front of efforts to fight homophobia in sports might seem radical, the actual strategy isn’t. The shoes and clothes Nike produced to market the cause fit squarely into a trend in sports fashion that was already pushing the boundaries of acceptability and comfort for the stereotypical straight male athlete. That trend — Grantland’s Wesley Morris has called it “the quiet queering of professional sports” — has blurred lines between men and women and what might be perceived as unacceptable or gay or simply weird.
What Nike has done is take that trend and run with it. Inclusivity has always been a staple of Nike’s advertising, and now it’s expanding that to an LGBT audience that has often been left out of the sports world. It’s promoting its #BeTrue line and endorsing athletes like Brittney Griner and letting her market men’s clothes for the company, all the while telling sports fans and apparel buyers that it’s cool to be who they are, no matter whether they’re part of the LGBT audience, sympathizing with the LGBT audience, or someone who just likes the shoes. At the same time, they’re going one step farther, not just preaching that message but putting considerable weight behind the causes that matter to that audience too.
That obviously gives Nike ample business opportunities. But a more equal sports world is in and of itself a better business opportunity for everyone involved. That’s what Nike’s involvement here is saying, and judging by the actions of other companies, including Nike’s competitors — Adidas endorsed Oregon’s marriage equality amendment two weeks ago — that message is starting to sink in to the corporations Campus Pride and the LGBT Sports Coalition are asking to step up.