Serena: Nike vs Equality
Who has not seen Nike’s ad on Equality? If you have not, take some time to look at them! They are amazing and every time I watched them, I feel like Nike is directly talking to me. “Yes, Alex, you!”
I remember playing sports, various sports at early age around 4–5! I remember my swimming classes at 4, then going to the tennis club with my dad during the weekends. Why am I bringing these childhood memories? For a better understanding, let me give you the context: I was born and brought up in Burundi in a family of 6 girls being the 4th. You can say that we were competitive especially in sports. I was and believe still am a natural, I love being active but there are few sports I do not enjoy: cricket, curling… I am more in tennis and football.
When I was 13, my dad asked me if I was interested in playing tennis professionally meaning I had to leave my family, country to study abroad. I said yes without holding my breath and my lovely mother being at the same table, looked at me, said something like “You are not going anywhere, you need to finish school…” Later, she added that I needed to focus on doing well at school and getting good grades. At that moment, I had realized that the potential of being a professional athlete was not going to happen as I was ‘forced’ to stay at school until graduation. Two years later, I was playing football for my school and my coach told me that a scout wanted to recruit me and a friend; he’d come to watch the game where we had lost something like 8–0, I had stopped counting after 8. I was so chocked, believing this is was a sign from God — I went running to my mother this time, I was so pumped that she said no with more…kindness. School, it is!
One can think that watching tennis or football was frustrating but I was so happy as always. Basketball, Formula 1, boxing, yes, thankful that I had the means to watch the games.
When the WNBA was created, I was 8 — when I heard of Mia Hamm, I was 10–11, when I saw Venus and Serena — I was 9.
I can’t really put into words what it was like to watch them play: fierce and competitive. For my siblings and me, the Williams clan was a family thing especially watching the Grand Slam finals. On the court, I was a Serena for my elder sister and a Venus to my younger one. When Steffi Graf retired from tennis winning Roland Garros in ’99, I knew right away who I was going to be cheering for — the Williams clan.
In 2018 at 36, Serena has won 23 Grand Slams. If you don’t know what it is like, I really don’t know how I can explain it! SHE IS NOT THE G.O.A.T -> SHE IS SERENA. Hopefully this will help!
As I was pondering about her legacy and her achievements, on and off the court, I came to realize that if she was to retire from tennis, let’s say next year (it’s just a hypothesis), I will not be able to get her Nike gears. Why am I thinking this way? Because I was looking for a ‘Serena’ Nike shoe and could not get hold of anything other than the gears used for different tournaments. What I am looking for is a legacy in the shoe world. God knows there are loads of basketball shoes where rookies can even sign a fruitful contract with brands, working on their brand in the process.
Ok, you can say that tennis is not mainstream as basketball is. Not everybody watches Wimbledon, tennis is a hobby for the upper class. Not only is it false, but I can bet that people on the court are wearing sneakers or own them.
What I am trying to understand with the Nike ads was ‘Equality’. Perhaps living 10 years in France where the system insists on the “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” and somehow on the ground it is far from it, I came to the realization those ads may have had the same purposes. We are going to say that we believe in something … hopefully, no one will see that it is not really the case.
I write about Nike, I could have done the same with Adidas, Reebok, Under Armour to name a few. There is saying in french “Qui aime bien, châtie bien” (Who loves well, disciplines as well). I have a relationship with Nike that goes back to my childhood memories from Peter Sampras, Michael Jordan, PSG … all sponsored by the brand. It is also with the recollection of all my favorites players that I realized that I didn’t know much about female athletes unless… they were exceptional!
It is also by watching the ads that I saw myself back then meeting people -especially women — who tried to discredit my abilities to play a ‘male sport’ and even those comments coming from my mother: “What will they say about you?” “That is unladylike”. Funny coming from her as I learned in high school that she used to be the captain of her basketball team! At that time, she had realized sports were a big part of who I am.
So Nike, what is your end game?
You are sponsoring Serena, not need to write about her achievements. What are you doing to play a part in her legacy?
Serena is not only limited to Compton, to Flushing Meadows or Melbourne… Through her story, she is reliable to the forgotten 2 billion! She is a woman, mother, black and businesswoman.
Equality could start with offering the same visibility as LeBron’s, Kobe’s, Kyrie’s, Jordan’s…
You are talking about a Revolution In Motion: what are your actions? I am not saying that you have not done anything, of course not. I am saying that with your brand recognition, Nike could bring more of their sponsored athletes: Maria Sharapova, Alex Morgan, Amna Al Haddad, Allyson Felix, Michelle Wie, etc.
I will use your own words: “Where you are defined by your actions …”.
I can tell you that I will be at a Nike store in my city when you will release Serena x Nike and other female who not only are changing their sports but pushing boundaries outside.
Maybe I misunderstood your message but I believe we can expect more from your company as you are surrounded by exceptional athletes, I am tempted to scream “Preach what you believe” but I will write this “Believe In More”.
Until We All Win.
P.S. You can even work with a woman as a shoe designer — paving the way for a new generation of Tinker Hatfield.