On New Year”s Day the Michigan Wolverines will face off against the Tennessee Volunteers in Orlando, in our third Citrus Bowl appearance in just four years. Almost as familiar as the University”s show of maize and blue will be Nike”s universally-recognized “Swoosh,” a symbol that has become highly controversial and for many people represents a corporation responsible for the exploitation of thousands of workers at its overseas factories.
However, Nike, the exclusive outfitter of the University”s varsity athletic teams, has a contract with the University which stipulates that players are not allowed to cover up the Swoosh. In the contract that the University negotiated with Nike last year a contract which is effective for seven years from the signing date terms are outlined which allow Nike to reduce the University”s “scheduled cash compensation,” (i.e. the share in profits that the University receives from through its agreement with Nike) if the Nike logo is “materially diminished.”
Long story short, athletes are not permitted, under threat of serious revenue ramifications for the University, to cover up Nike”s logo. According to a report prepared in 1997 by Joyce Julius & Associates, obtained by the Daily through a Freedom of Information Act two years ago, even the most limited logo exposure for Nike affects Nike”s revenues in a significant way. In the 1997 Michigan versus Colorado football game, for example, an exposure of Nike jerseys for 13 minutes and 9 seconds resulted in an estimated revenue increase of $1,841,000.
The University is a public institution which should not have signed onto a contract that clearly limits its students rights of freedom of expression. Many people have serious problems with the corporation that the Nike logo represents and morally object to advertising for the company. The numbers prove that each appearance of the Nike logo, no matter how brief, results in a profit for Nike.
In 1977 the Supreme Court ruled in Wooley v. Maynard that a New Hampshire man was expressing his freedom from speech, that is, from expressing a certain ideology, when it decided that he was unjustly imprisoned for covering up New Hampshire”s “Live Free or Die” motto on his license plate.
The Supreme Court has clearly ruled that to force someone to express a certain opinion does not pass constitutional muster. It is surprising that the University, under the leadership of President Lee Bollinger, a noted First Amendment scholar, would allow such terms to appear in its licensing agreement.
Athletes who depend on scholarships from the University to fund their education should not be compelled to advertise for a corporation whose business strategies they might disagree with. While contract negotiations do not begin for another six years, it is important that the University is aware of the mistake it made with the current licensing agreement.