Last fall, a reporter from The Times asked me about the relationship between Crenshaw High School boys' basketball program and Nike in terms of what the corporations donates to the basketball players. To my knowledge as the principal, I told him, the company gave each member of the boys' team a pair of tennis shoes, just as Karl Kani, a smaller African American ownedbusiness, gave shoes to members of the girls' team.
The reporter informed me that there was probably much more to the relationship than 15 pairs of Nike tennis shoes. As it turned out, he was absolutely correct.
As I investigated, I learned that Nike practically outfitted every member of the boys' team -- several pairs of shoes for each player each year, gym bags, hats, warm-ups and probably some other items.
What does Nike get from Crenshaw High School? They get a championship basketball program to advertise for Nike. None of it seems illegal, but is it ethical?
Take, for example, their first foray into billboard advertising using Crenshaw High.
''To hell with moral victories,'' read the caption over a large male fist adorned with three enormous basketball championship rings. Under the fist in small letters was written ''The Book of Crenshaw.'' This was one of Nike's billboards in its ''The Book of...'' advertising campaign.
A few months earlier, the school administration had rejected this ad, telling Nike that it sent the wrong message about Crenshaw's educational philosophy. When we initially agreed to work with Nike, their representative assured us that we would have the final say regarding the contents of the ad. So we said ''no'' to the contents and went about the business of running a large urban high school, confident that the ad writers would do the morally correct thing and dump the ad. But not only did they ignore us, they placed this ad in the Crenshaw community. To its credit, Nike did not place this ad on the billboard around the corner from the school. The billboards were, nonetheless, 50 feet of negative advertising about what could only be construed as a winning-is-the-only-thing-of-value attitude.
Several weeks ago, when I learned quite by accident that Nike had arranged with one of our coaches to use the Crenshaw High gym to film a commercial, I immediately stopped the project. I was appalled that Nike would totally bypass the administrative staff in seeking to use district facilities for a profit-making enterprise. It was only after I made it clear that I wanted in writing assurance that the school administration would have the final OK on the contents of the ad that featured our school did Nike send a new representative.
I am embarrassed to admit the depth of my naivete. But I must let those who influence my students, including Nike, know that ethical values count in the Crenshaw community. What I want is a relationship in which not only Nike but my student athletes prosper.
How does it profit my student athletes, who do their part to keep Nike's interest, if the inordinate amount of time spent practicing- up to four hours after school most days -- hinders them academically and, consequently, eliminates them as college recruits? The school's top two players on the 1997 state championship boys' basketball team, to this point, have not met the freshman academic eligibility requirements to accept scholarships at NCAA Division I schools. Girls' basketball standards Naila Moseley and Keisha
Shepard will attend Stanford and Loyola Marymount, respectively, on scholarships.
At the very least, Nike could sponsor Saturday tutoring for basketball players and make the tutoring mandatory. Nike could also honor their earlier promise to donate ''seconds'' to Crenshaw High so that a store can be set up on campus. Not only student athletes but other Crenshaw students could entrepreneurial skills -- consumer concerns, marketing, business ethics. Proceeds from the sales could be used for scholarships.
Or Nike could help Crenshaw expand technology for our students. Rooms are already wired for use of the Internet; Nike could provide the computers. Nike could sponsor competitions besides sports. How about academic activities such as science fairs, speech and debate meets, math contests for elementary and middle school students in the neighborhood so that students enter Crenshaw High with the expectation that academic achievment and excellence in sports are linked?
Nike could allow our parents' advisory council to determine what corporate assistance addresses the long-range goals of our students.
But the exploitation of student athletes at Crenshaw High School must stop. For me to remain silent on this issue is to collude with those who do not have my students' best interest at heart.
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