As Nike Released Its New Anti-Racism Ad, Its CEO Sent Out This Memo to Employees

“Let me be as clear as I can: Nike is opposed to bigotry,” CEO John Donahoe wrote.

As protests against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis broke out across the country, Nike released a stark ad Friday encouraging consumers to confront racial injustice in America.

In a shift from its last three decades of advertising, the Beaverton sportswear giant is imploring consumers to just not do it—in this case, that means not shying away from conversations about race.

In the ad, created by Portland firm Wieden+Kennedy, a series of phrases appear against a black background, inverting the sportswear giant's famous slogan: "For once, Don't Do It. Don't pretend there's not a problem in America. Don't turn your back on racism. Don't accept innocent lives being taken from us."

AdWeek compared the spot to other brands' attempts to address the unrest happening right now, calling it "the boldest step so far." Forbes praised the company for "sharing an honest and hopeful message with a country looking for some glimmers of optimism." The ad currently has 6.4 million views on Twitter.

It's not the first time the company has commented on racial strife in America. In 2017, Nike unveiled embattled NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the face of a campaign marking the 30th anniversary of the "Just Do It" slogan, a move that drew a backlash from conservatives.

The new ad comes six months after Nike was the subject of another protest, as hundreds of employees at the company's Beaverton headquarters staged a walkout over allegations of sexual misconduct at the company and its continued glorification of disgraced track coach Alberto Salazar.

Related: Hundreds of Nike Employees Stage Walk to Protest Alberto Salazar on Beaverton Campus.

The morning Nike released the ad, its CEO sent a memo to all employees explaining the company's decision to take a political position.

In the memo, obtained by WW, CEO John Donahoe affirmed the company's position on the recent rash of highly publicized killings of black Americans, including Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.

"Let me be as clear as I can: Nike is opposed to bigotry," Donahoe wrote. "We are opposed to hatred and inequality in all its forms, indirect and overt. While Nike cannot solve injustice, I believe we have a responsibility to work toward addressing it to the best of our ability."

Read the full memo below:


As we've watched racial tragedies expose prejudice and injustice in our cities over these past few weeks, I can't stop thinking about the individuals impacted: Ahmaud Arbery. Christian Cooper. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. The horrible killings and racist actions serve as a sickening reminder of what too many people live through every day in America. It is absolutely wrong what's happening in our communities, to our friends and family members.

These tragedies are not unique to the U.S. Far from it—we see violent incidents in countries all over the world, fueled by hatred and ignorance.

I've been asking myself how to respond during times like these, both as a citizen and as a member of the Nike family. This is a place where we want to bring our complete selves to what we do, working on behalf of three brands—Nike, Jordan and Converse—that stand for the human spirit. And yet I know in recent days many of us have been experiencing feelings of heavy grief as we work.

And with so many of us working from home, it can feel like there's little division between our "home lives" and our "work lives." I've heard from many of you how you're feeling—exhausted, sad, impatient, angry, fearful. I wanted to send this note today to tell you all that Nike is with you and I am with you.

This is a special place because we show up for each other. I ask each of us to reach out to your friends and teammates to see how they're doing, to be there for each other—and not just in raw moments like these, but in the in-between moments too. We are a team, a community, a family, and we stand together. Please take a look at how we are expressing our beliefs today.

Something I love about our community are the values we share. I take pride in equality being one of our core values, how it drives our Purpose to unite the world and create an equal playing field for all. In recent weeks our teammates have been powerful representatives for our ideals, as seen in campaigns like "I REPRESENT" from our ASCEND Network, the scholarships provided this week through the Jordan Brand Wings Program and our announcement also this week of new grants to organizations supporting LGBTQIA+ communities. I also encourage everyone to support community organizations through the Until We All Win giving opportunity at Give Your Best, which provides a two-to-one match for all employee donations.

I know these have been a difficult few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional fear and tragedy into our lives, with striking disparities in how certain populations have experienced this crisis, particularly in the United States. With its devastating impact on communities of color—including Black, Latinx, Asian and Native American populations—COVID-19 has further exposed deep-seated inequities that are sadly systemic in our society.

It has also served as a reminder of the racism that is still far too prevalent in our culture. Racial bigotry has created enormous pain and tragedy in the Black community. And since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a disturbing increase in racism toward Asian communities worldwide. The fact that these injustices—and too many others—continue is horrific and unacceptable. I know many teammates in the U.S. and around the world are feeling tired of having to justify their existence and to fight for their dignity and humanity.

Let me be as clear as I can: Nike is opposed to bigotry. We are opposed to hated and inequality in all its forms, indirect and overt. While Nike cannot solve injustice, I believe we have a responsibility to work toward addressing it to the best of our ability. What we can do is inspire and empower ourselves and others to action—and try to help shape a better society by serving as a beacon of hope and resilience.

I think the world needs sport right now, that belief in humanity and the ability to transcend some of our biggest obstacles. I feel personally humbled by our opportunity to bring that to life.

I encourage all of us to not be daunted by the enormity of what we face today. The tragedies we face, we face together. We choose to act in a way that is authentic and true to our values. We are compelled by our purpose: Until We All Win. And we will never ever quit until that becomes a reality."

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