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Nike ad backlash gains steam. One state is already reviewing contracts, considering legislation

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Jon Street, Campus Reform

  • A Tennessee state senator requested an inquiry of which publicly-funded colleges have contracts with Nike amid the company’s unveiling of its new Colin Kaepernick ad campaign.
  • The senator’s campaign spokesman said the request came after constituents who “are very much interested in this conversation.”
  • The Tennessee Office of Legislative Budget Analysis confirmed the existence of the inquiry, adding that it should be completed within one week.

A Tennessee Republican state senator wants to know which publicly-funded colleges and universities currently have contracts with Nike after the apparel company unveiled its new ad campaign featuring the controversial former NFL player Colin Kaepernick.


“I have asked the TN Office of Legislative Budget Analysis to review what TN state-financed colleges & universities have Nike contracts and report findings,” state Sen. Bo Watson, who is the Senate Finance Chair, tweeted Saturday.

Catherine Haire, Senate budget analysis director in the Office of Legislative Budget Analysis, confirmed to Campus Reform on Monday that the office has launched the requested inquiry and that it should have the findings by the end of the week.

Already, College of the Ozarks in Missouri has dropped Nike as its athletic apparel provider. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell also indicated that his school could cut ties with the athletic apparel company.

A spokesman for Watson’s re-election campaign told Campus Reform on Monday that Watson made the request after hearing concerns from his constituents who are “very much interested in this conservation.” However, Watson’s re-election campaign spokesman called Watson’s approach to the issue “methodical.” He declined to say whether the inquiry could lead to any publicly-funded colleges and universities in Tennessee dropping their contracts with Nike.

Instead, he said that Watson would wait for the results of the report and make a decision from there. If the report’s findings result in legislation that would prohibit publicly-funded colleges and universities from doing business with Nike, it would affect the University of Tennessee-Martin, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and Tennessee State University in Nashville.

Alexandra Bess King, who currently studies international relations and journalism at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, told Campus Reform that she would support public colleges and universities dropping their Nike contracts.

“Publicly-funded universities need to look for alternative contracts because Nike has now become such a controversial company that it no longer aligns with what a lot of taxpayers agree with,” King said. “If taxpayer dollars are going toward public universities, public universities need to align themselves with companies that don’t ostracize a group of people who don’t agree with Nike’s recent decisions.”

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