Monday, May 25, 2009

Nike's apparent stance on federal anti-discrimination law: JUST BREAK IT!

Someone please tell me how this is legal. I fail to see how it falls into one of the categories of "acceptable" gender discrimination, e.g., Hooters' standing preference for (a) female waitresses who (b) have nice, well, hooters. And to appreciate just how objectionable this is, I ask you to simply turn it around: Imagine an ad seeking someone to interview male athletes that specified a preference (right in the first line, no less) for some "lucky young guy"!

To me, in fact, this violates federal employment law in at least two areas, the second being its stipulation that the candidate be "between 18 and 24." Excuse me? So when you hit the ripe old age of 25 you lose your ability to interview or even relate to young female athletes?

OK, Nike. I'm waiting to hear your rationale....


Noadi said...

I totally agree with you that this is unacceptable and probably a violation of the law. However I think I see Nike's warped rationale and it has nothing to do with relating to the female athletes. They aren't stating it outright but I bet they are also looking for young women who wouldn't look out of place at a Hooters.

Steve Salerno said...

Noadi: I agree with you--that sounds like "the story behind the story." I guess I'm just astonished that a major company like Nike feels no qualms about being so up-front in its aims and motivations. This reminds me of the ads--I think we talked about this?--that used to require "front-office appearance," which of course was code for "you'd better be pretty and curvy or else don't bother."

I'm also reminded of how women sports reporters argued (successfully) that they should have access to male locker rooms. If females can cover male sports in such "intimate" detail--and frankly I see no reason why they can't--then by what rationale can Nike say that this job requires female sex characteristics in order to be competently performed? And I don't see how the answer can be "because our audience will relate better to other women," either. That same logic could be used in various settings to discriminate against blacks, whites, religious preferences, in real-estate redlining, etc.

roger o'keefe said...

It is *plainly* illegal, but nothing would be done because the illegality benefits a protected class of people in today's American society: Women.

Anonymous said...

Nike is offering an internship position to interview women athletes, and it's being restricted to women of college age.

I, for one, am shocked!

What's next? The president of the US must be at least 35 years-old? The NAACP is offering executive positions to black people?

Help me gin up some bogus rage here, folks! I am being discriminated against! Nike won't even consider me; Sports Illustrated won't put me in the swimsuit edition; the porno movie companies won't give me the time of day; and I can't get into the College of Cardinals due to religious persecution.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 7:37: I could write volumes about your comment, but here are just a few random thoughts.

1. There shouldn't be an NAACP. Or a Congressional Black Caucus, for that matter.
2. The College of Cardinals is also part of a much wider problem.
3. So I take it you didn't object to all those country clubs who excluded Jews, either, right? Or the restaurants who put up signs reading NO BLACKS OR DOGS? Because, after all, we have to keep the membership/clientele happy, and we really only want to associate with folks "just like us"...

It's so easy to be glib about these things, isn't it. And look, I didn't pass these laws; the federal government did. If we're going to have rules, do we look the other way when breaking the rules benefits some (socially) protected class of people?

Anonymous said...


You are blurring the very real distinction between public (restaurants) and private (country clubs) when it comes to restricting access. But you know that. Their are country clubs which, to this day, exclude Jews, women and blacks. And there are country clubs which will only let you in if you are a Jew (Palm Beach Country Club, made (in)famous by Bernie Madoff), black (Haywood Country Club); and exercise clubs for women only (Shapes; Curves). But we all know that - nothing new here. It's just rehashing the Augusta National/Masters Golf debate from a decade ago.

Nike obviously ran this by their legal department first, and somebody decided that a part-time, internship position interviewing female athletes could be restricted to females of traditional college age (but not by race or sexual orientation). Nike is a big-tent company, and as long as they offer can demonstrate that a white guy your age can be employed in some capacity - say CEO; CFO; Chairman of the Board - they they don't discriminate as a company against old white guys.

But if you want to take them to court, I would love for you to share your experience via the blog.

Steven Sashen said...

I think the issue here is framing, not discrimination.

This is clearly not a journalism job. It's no accident that they say they're having a "casting call," and that they want you to "audition." They're looking for someone to play a role.

Hollywood trade magazines have nothing BUT ads like this, looking for particular "types." Had you seen this same ad in the trades (which is where it should have been placed and, I'll bet, also appears), I imagine it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.

The real error, it seems, was made by whomever placed this ad in the wrong venue.

Which raises an interesting question: If you run an ad that's acceptable in one magazine, but reeks of discrimination in another, is it okay or not?

Steve Salerno said...

Steven: I think you make a very good point But you know, the distinctions here (and in the examples given by Anon 9:51) aren't as clear as they appear to be. A director can say, "I'm casting a film about suburbia, so I need a white middle-aged couple for this role"...but what happens when all of the movies you make are about white neighborhoods and "white themes," such that there are no roles for blacks (as was, for the most part, the case throughout Hollywood some years back)? Is that racism or not? Or what happens when you have the situation amply documented by Bernard Goldberg in Bias, where you're an executive at a TV newsmagazine who knows that his audience of mostly white families doesn't really want to see news about blacks, so you don't put "black stories" on the show, or else your ratings will nosedive and your ad rates will plummet? Is that a form of racism? Or just "good business"? What happens if/when the majority of "private country clubs" in a given area have exclusionary policies, such that a local minority resident (if he's even "allowed" to live there) has no place to play golf without driving 50 miles? What happens when the majority of homeowners in a given neighborhood refuse to rent the apartments in their private, two-family homes to blacks?

Not an easy topic.

Steven Sashen said...

Agreed, it's not an easy topic.

But this doesn't seem to be a case like the examples you give. I obviously haven't run the numbers, but Nike doesn't only use 18-24 year old white women in its ads.

I'll never forget being 17 and having a friend take me to his country club and both of us realizing that, not only was I the only Jew in the place, but that, well, nobody was particularly happy I was there. We found that hysterical and ridiculous, and played it up like there was no tomorrow, and had a great time.

Obviously, it would have been a different story had I been applying for membership.

Oh, I just remembered: this same country club was given the choice to end their racist, bigoted policies or lose preferential tax status (costing them millions of dollars). They elected to pay the fine.

Steve Salerno said...

Incidentally, let me be clear about something: I'm not implying that programs like Nike's are unheard-of or come completely out of the blue to me. Even at the higher, more serious-minded levels of the profession, like those at which I generally work, there are any number of "minority journalist programs," which I find absurd and offensive. For one thing, now that the Supreme Court has deemed most quotas based on racial or gender preferences unconstitutional, I don't quite understand how you can have a program that is designed to benefit only minorities or women. ("No, you can't reserve 75% of the slots for women. But 100% is perfectly fine...") Such is life, though, in these enlightened times.

Anonymous said...

Roger said: "the illegality benefits a protected class of people in today's American society: Women."

Roger, how are women a protected class? And protected from what?

roger o'keefe said...

Anon 11:29, oh please, I'm so sick of having to justify things that are obvious for the seeing! Women want to be equal when it benefits them and have special exemptions when they can't measure up. It's like this whole Title 9 thing for sports. If women really want to be equal, then just have ONE tryout for all comers, male and female, and the spots go to the best athletes, period. So a tennis team would be composed of the best tennis players, whether they're men or women. But of course women don't want that because they know they generally can't compete with men, so then suddenly they want their own teams. Fine, but then STOP the b.s. about "equality!" You either want a truly level playing field or you don't!

Steve Salerno said...