By Debra Ruh
Nike’s New Message? Be Like Justin!
Remember Nike’s drive to become an international brand in the 1980s that featured Michael Jordan and director Spike Lee (as the unforgettable Mars Blackmon)? The message was simple; Be Like Mike.
On Saturday –fittingly World Cerebral Palsy Day — the wildly popular athletic apparel giant offered a new message, a giant milestone in the global brand’s movement for inclusion; Be Like Justin.
But who is Justin? “Justin” is Justin Gallegos, a student at the University of Oregon and a member of the school’s running club. Nike signed Gallegos, who has cerebral palsy, to a three-year professional contract. This three-year deal means that Justin Gallegos joins Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods and other great athletes, as Nike brand ambassadors.
If you’ve seen the video on YouTube when Justin was met at the end of a routine run and informed of the deal by a Nike official in front of his teammates, you can see what a powerful game changer this is in major brand’s movement for inclusion.
We in this community who saw the viral video all over social media cried with him and cheered.
Adweek offered another aspect to the Gallegos story that may be even more important than Nike recognizing a great athlete who happens to have cerebral palsy. (Note to the media: Justin Gallegos is not a “disabled athlete,” but an athlete who happens to have a disability. Put the people first, not their disability, there is a difference).
Sports Illustrated reported that Justin Gallegos has already jumped in and is at work with Nike in developing a new running shoe named the Pegasus 35 FlyEase. This is footwear specifically designed for runners with disabilities. You see, runners with cerebral palsy have a unique gait. This new shoe is designed with that in mind, along with a zipper on the back to make it easier to get the shoes on and off.
Nike’s new message proves that Phil Knight’s company understands that persons with physical disabilities are an untapped consumer market for multinational brands and that these individuals are full members of society who earn a paycheck, pay taxes, raise families and contribute to life in the world around us, through all their activities both personally and professionally.
They are also athletes and fierce competitors who sweat, win and lose but always strive. They give it their all and expect no mercy. While their actions can be inspiring, their purpose is not to inspire. Their primary goal is competition, teamwork, and success – the goals of all of us as individuals and businesses.
Of course, it is true Justin Gallegos is not the first athlete with a physical challenge to make a mark. In 1970, the New Orleans Saints’ Tom Dempsey kicked what was then the NFL record for the longest field goal, despite his deformed foot and hand.
Blind snapper Jake Olson made his mark on special teams for the University of Southern California Trojans, one of college football’s signature programs.
And Shaquem Griffin, despite having only one arm, earned a spot on the Seattle Seahawks roster, after wowing scouts at the NFL Combine.
There are countless more anonymous individual athletes with disabilities who have competed over the years, out of the spotlight, just for the joy of their effort.
There is no pity wanted here, only the opportunity for the persons with disabilities community to be welcomed in the locker room, the classroom, or the boardroom.
Justin Gallegos and Nike are loud and clear when it comes to their message.
The large multinational brands may be thinking more about bringing persons with disability into their marketing. Brand inclusion is now becoming more recognized as a very import corporate marketing strategy. We have come a long way, think about the Nike ads from decades ago, the ones that said, “It’s gotta be the shoes.” It’s not the shoes. It’s the mind and heart that matter. Bottom line? All people matter.
And the new message is; Be Like Justin.
Cheers for Nike.
Cheers for Justin.
Cheers for us.