"Break'n Ankles Shatter'n Dreams?" Really, Nike?
I was school shopping with my kids last Sunday when I spotted a Nike shirt bearing this slogan, prominently displayed on a mannequin near the entrance to the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Geneva. My teenagers groaned and quickly vanished while I waited to speak to Diane, the manager on duty. I told her that I found the message disturbing and asked her what she thought of it. She admitted that she hadn't, really, so I explained my belief that messages like this one promote violence on the playing field and elsewhere. I shared that I’ve heard parents and kids say similar things – even at the lesser-competitive recreational level of soccer.
"Kick her in the knees!" someone shouted, during one memorable, muddy and otherwise miserable rec soccer game three-and-a-half years ago. In disbelief I whipped my head around to see who’d issued such a directive. The MOM of one of my daughter’s teammates? For real? Yes, yes it was. I like her. I like her kid. But I don’t like what she said. How old were these girls, 9? Ten, at most? I couldn’t believe my ears. And then she said it again. What little kid, when she suits up to play a "game," ever considers the possibility that she might deliberately be assaulted on the field? When a couple of the girls chimed in I snapped to attention and hushed them with a quiet, “Ooh, come on now, let’s be sweet.” Wow. Kids are so impressionable, aren’t they? It’s frightening to think that an attitude like this one can mushroom so quickly. But it can. Think a slogan on a T-shirt is any less powerful?
As for Diane, she happily agreed to pass my concerns on to Dick’s upper management. To her credit, she also volunteered that she would take the shirt off the mannequin. If only every other retailer would “just do it.”
I’ve noticed, in all of my years as a soccer mom, that some kids play dirty. Some adult coaches play dirty, too (though not our own, thank goodness), and encourage this. I know at least a couple of kids whose athletic careers have been sidelined (some have even been hospitalized) by what I believe are the effects of this attitude, and I’ve had enough. It’s got to stop. But it won’t, unless each of us does our own part and chips away at it. In my opinion, if we passively accept this attitude, and don’t speak up when we encounter it, we become part of the problem.
“Why do you have to be so soft?” my son asked, when I returned to the car after my chat with Diane.
“Because I care, about you and Holly and every other child who just wants to play a game,” I replied. Accidents and injuries happen, of course, but we’re talking about whether or not it’s OK to condone, and, in fact, promote the use of violence on the field – or anywhere else. What kind of society do we want for our children?
When I posted this picture and aired my concerns on Facebook, my friends were shocked, including one, whose son was hospitalized after the opposing (high school) football coach allegedly told his players to “get him out of the game.” (One of this coach’s players shared a mutual friend with her son, who told him.)
This mom also pointed out that the “Break’n ankles” sentiment displayed on the Nike shirt is common basketball parlance. The expression “break’n ankles” is commonly used to refer to one’s outstanding moves on the basketball court that can theoretically lead to one’s opponents breaking their ankles in their efforts to obtain control of the ball, but that defense is indefensible, if you ask me. This slogan can easily be misunderstood by those unfamiliar with its origins. Besides, whatever happened to Nike’s “Just Do It.” campaign,anyhow? This positive message no doubt inspired millions to get out there and enjoy moving their bodies, and managed to sell plenty of T-shirts, too, without also inspiring people to tear each other down – literally or figuratively.
What will you do when you see this shirt? Will you speak up? And will you make the calls? Here are the numbers: Nike – 800-344-6453 (enter option “5” and then option “9”); Dick’s – 724-273-3400. My own calls netted this response: Customer service representatives noted my concerns, as did media-relations personnel from both companies. Will one woman's calls make a difference? Perhaps they will consider the possibility that others might also understand this slogan to mean that athletes should celebrate their opponents' misfortune, and even their injuries, while they themselves succeed at the game. Perhaps it will matter to them that folks like me actually also wonder, upon seeing a slogan like this on their merchandise, if Nike (and Dick's, by extension) means even to advocate the use of excessive aggression. Whatever their motivation to do it, I’d love to see these companies at least exhibit some social responsibility and take these shirts off the shelves altogether. In the meantime, I’m voting with my pocketbook. So far, Dick’s gets my vote. Because when I called Diane’s supervisor on Wednesday to praise her responsiveness and swift action, Nate cheerfully volunteered (before he knew my name or affiliation as a columnist with the Kane County Chronicle): “We don’t want to offend. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one [person] or a million. You’re a loyal customer. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.” Well yes, Nate, it’s true, my debit-card has gotten quite a workout at your store over the years. You keep up this approach to customer service and yup, I’ll stay a fan.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at email@example.com.