Nike’s The Opening: Exhibition or Exploitation?

One could easily argue that a country’s most valuable resource and most important commodity is its youth. For the youth represents hope for a better tomorrow. It’s the possessor of the light passed down from the generations before it.

What the youth also represents, especially in a capitalist society, is the future of the culture of consumption, and a future potential source of profits.

The battle for control of America’s youth is a cutthroat fight, one that’s being waged by some of the world’s most powerful corporations, which recognize the importance of shaping young minds through campaigns centered around fostering ideology, and most importantly, building brand allegiance, disguising the element of commercial exposure as the freedom of choice.

One of the most important battlefields in that everlasting war is the apparel industry.

Within that contentious realm is the biggest slinger of heavy propaganda artillery, Nike, a company which, well, let’s say has always had somewhat of a suspect relationship with the world’s youth.

There’s no new ground to break in talking about the company’s abhorrent sweatshop labor practices, nor are there many revelations to uncover about its marketing tactics, which are mainly based around hawking exorbitantly priced sneakers to the young demographic who have had it blasted into their brains that it’s necessary to “Be Like Mike.”

Let’s tackle this “Opening” thing instead. 

This week, 166 of the best high school football players in the country will make the trek to the Pacific Northwest to bow at the altar of the Swoosh and take part in Nike’s The Opening ritual, which takes place at the company’s main campus headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. It’s the culmination of a spring schedule that’s included numerous national regional combines and camps.

The highly touted prospects will be put through rigorous physical tests and assorted measurements of athletic prowess: dashes, leaps, shuttles, jumps and other drills. They’ll perform all these tasks while wearing the latest “hot, new, fresh” gear — born of the global supply chain — ranging from shirts, to shoes, to cleats, which Nike is readying to soon unleash and market to the masses.

The buzzword Nike will use to describe this event will be simple and to the point: Showcase.

It’s an opportunity to prove oneself against the best of the best on the grandest of stages, while clad in bright colored attire adorn with the symbols of the host.

Players will be expected to volunteer their perspective about the event in social media diary form on their own personal twitter accounts, without any compensation from Nike of course — maybe even tweet out a picture of the new gear to their followers if the mood strikes them.

The overarching backdrop of college football recruiting is a fitting one. You didn’t have to watch the 30 For 30 about Sonny Vaccaro to know that this is what that is: Recruiting.

“Get the young kids,” is how Sonny eloquently put it.

You can’t help but wonder what type of clever hashtag campaigns a marketing genius like Vaccaro would have thought of if he was in his prime today. Vaccaro may have grown old, but the kids have stayed the same age. Their enthusiasm remains as well.

The desire to escape into a better life, a life where one is rewarded for their skills and properly compensated for all their efforts on the field will always exist.

Today’s world is today’s world.

Today’s world is one in which blue-chip recruits tag apparel companies in their tweets.

Today’s world is one in which the military industrial complex uses celebrated high school athletes as pawns in its propaganda machine.


Today’s world is one in which recruits compete in 7-on-7 tournaments as members of  teams named after a cleat, for free, because in today’s world, the participants aren’t just the consumers; they are the marketing tools as well.

So here we are, about to witness another group’s transition from innocent raw talent into something else — a unification ceremony of ideals that may just be a bit beyond their current level of comprehension. Maybe it’s even beyond the grasp of the viewers as well.

The idea of being a willing participant in the marketing spectacle is certainly up for debate.

What separates man from mannequin?

Should exposure be treated as a currency?

What’s the value of the exchange?

Where’s the line between exhibition and exploitation?

An easy answer to those complicated questions in this new age of social media evolving as the dominant new platform is that the lines are becoming even more blurred than usual.

There are no more definitive answers when it comes to the question of morality concerning relationships between major global brands and athletes, especially those on the younger end of the spectrum. More thoughts about the medium of the message and its participants and questions about the process are undoubtedly necessary.

So ask we must.

Mutual benefit between both parties is supposed to be the ultimate goal, isn’t it?

The audience, not the participant, is left to judge if that’s truly the case.

Only one thing’s for sure now: We’re all exposed.

Let’s watch and see what happens.


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