by D. Trull
In the minds of most people, multinational athletic shoe leviathan Nike is probably better known for its megabuck celebrity endorsement deals than for the quality of its footwear. It's a marketing strategy that's paid off: millions of consumers are happy to overlook the company's inflated retail prices and grievous foreign labor abuses, just to be like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. And recently, thanks to a major lingual goof-up, it looked as though Nike had signed a deal with the most powerful commercial spokesperson in creation: God Almighty Himself.
Hot on the heels of Reebok's recall of women's shoes with the stock designation "Incubus" (which the vocabulary-deficient company didn't realize is an evil spirit that rapes sleeping women), Nike is enduring a similar marketing fiasco. A logo on samples of upcoming Nike products appears to contain the word "Allah" written in Arabic. The Council on American-Islamic Relations is demanding an apology for what it considers a tremendous insult toward Muslims. Nike insists that the perception of Allah's name in the graphic design is strictly coincidental.
"Let me make clear that the intent was to show the AIR logo in flames in summer and heat," said Vizhier Corpuz, a spokeswoman for Nike. "There was never any intent to represent anything other than AIR. That would be irrelevant to the shoe and the design of the shoe."
Nike explains that the shoes with the suspicious logo were only prototypes. After their Eastern European division noticed the resemblance to the word "Allah" in the samples, the company says it altered the design long before the shoes ever went into production. Consumers should never have seen the uncorrected logo.
But somehow, Nikes bearing the offensive design have turned up in stores on both coasts of the U.S. The company claims bewilderment over how unauthorized samples could have made it into retail channels. The official debut of the new line of Air footwear is set for this summer, introducing models named Air Bakin', Air Melt, Air Grill and Air B-Que. These names are apparently supposed to evoke summertime fun, but they all sound strangely like Nike is going after the fat guy market. (Celebrity spokesman Homer Simpson: "Mmmmm... Air B-Que!")
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, held a press conference at which he displayed a pair of the unfortunate "Air Allahs" that had been purchased in the Boston area. He called for a public apology from Nike, as well as an investigation into the logo was a deliberate anti-Muslim statement. Muslims consider feet and shoes to be extremely unclean and lowly -- some find it insulting for a person to sit with the soles of their shoes in open view -- which makes Nike's faux pas particularly offensive.
"For Muslims, to have the name of God as part of a shoe design is extremely offensive," Awad said. "This is the lowest of respect that anything can be viewed with."
Muslim NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon joined the Council's protests. "The placement of this holy symbol on shoes which will be soiled, walked on and disposed of is very offensive to Muslims," he said in a written statement. "It is offensive to us when a major corporation such as Nike publicly shows disrespect for Allah's name." Fortunately, Olajuwon has an endorsement deal with a Nike competitor.
Incidentally, this is not the first time Nike has run afoul of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In 1995, the company ran a billboard advertisement showing a basketball player under a tagline reading, "They called him Allah." Nike removed the ad after the Council labeled it offensive to Muslims.
And it bears mentioning that Nike had yet another case of unwelcome religion-related publicity recently, in the form of 39 pairs of spiffy black hi-tops on the corpses of the Heaven's Gate cult members. Don't look for Nike to be launching a commemorative "Air Applesauce" line anytime soon.
In all likelihood, Nike had no idea it was taking Allah's name in vain, and they should probably be forgiven after straightening out an honest mistake. Still, that doesn't make the company any less an evil pile of corporate scum, and anything capable of turning people against them can't be all bad. A word to those thinking of supporting Nike with their patronage: Just don't do it.
Besides, everybody knows God wears Chuck Taylors.
Source: Associated Press
(c) Copyright 1997 ParaScope, Inc.