The Nike Corporation catches a lot of flak, be it for their factories in impoverished companies or the bizarre culture created around their expensive athletic shoes. People have killed teenagers for their shoes, and people blame Nike. I never really cared — the world is full of nasty corporations, and I’ve got an old pair of New Balances anyway. But on the list of companies I’m supposed to hate, I know Nike is pretty high up there.
But I heard something last weekend that changed my mind, if only a little bit. I was at a conference at West Virginia University for students and professionals from all over the east coast, and I had the chance to talk to Rick Sparks, an assistant dean of students at Virginia Tech. He was in a discussion group that I was in, and before we started I mentioned that I really liked his shoes, a pair of custom Nike Shox, in VTech’s signature orange and maroon. There was a “VT” outlined in orange stitching under the laces, and a logo on the back that said VT ’07. When he took off his shoe, he showed me that the insole was a picture of the school’s beautiful administration building.
This is where the Nike being nice comes in.
After the April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, one of their orientation leaders, a student who works with incoming freshmen, told Sparks that he wanted to use the Nike ID program to order a custom pair of shoes in the school colors, orange and maroon, but Nike did not offer maroon as a choice. The student told Sparks he was going to call Nike about it, and Sparks said that he didn’t expect anything to come of it, that a huge corporation like Nike wouldn’t make an exception for a few orientation leaders at one school.
A few weeks and a few vague calls from Nike later, a crate of 36 custom Nike Shox arrived, in all the leaders’ sizes. No questions asked, no publicity, no nothing. Nike did something nice for the group of people that would be running freshman orientation — the first normal thing to happen there, Sparks said, since the shooting. And of all the students that were accepted to Virginia Tech that year, 99 percent of them were there.
So yeah, now I hate Nike a little less.