Black Nike Employees Reportedly Pushed Back on ‘You Can’t Stop Us’ Ad

    • The ad, narrated by soccer star Megan Rapinoe, touts the unifying power of sports across footage of racially diverse professional and amateur athletes.
    • A group of Black employees “voiced repeated objections” to the ad while it was in development, asking the company to first publicly address its internal “shortcomings."

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Weeks of internal turmoil are continuing for sportswear giant Nike, which released one of its signature ads touting sports’ power to unify on July 30. 

“You Can’t Stop Us,” narrated by soccer star Megan Rapinoe, features a slew of racially diverse professional and amateur athletes including Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams and LeBron James. The spot has been viewed more than 42 million times on YouTube and nearly 40 million times on Twitter, and is drawing rave reviews for its mesmerizing split-screen editing. 

According to a report from the Financial Times Tuesday, a group of Black employees “voiced repeated objections” to the ad while it was in development and asked management “to publicly acknowledge the company’s own internal shortcomings on equality before promoting the ideal to consumers.”

The group were members of a task force commissioned by the Nike CMO DJ van Hameren to “find solutions to Nike’s internal issues with diversity,” according to the report. 

On July 27, the Financial Times also reported that the company’s first-ever director of diversity and inclusion, Kellie Leonard, left Nike after 18 years overall and two in the new role. She was replaced by former human resources vice president Felicia Mayo, whose title is now “chief talent, diversity and culture officer.”

In June, Nike CEO John Donahoe wrote in a letter to staff he understood that “many have felt a disconnect between our external brand and your internal experience. You have told me that we have not consistently supported, recognised and celebrated our own black teammates in a manner they deserve. This needs to change.”

While the ad was in development, the task force reportedly suggested to leadership “in emails and at least two video meetings” that the company publicly acknowledge what was going on internally before capitalizing on the current climate.  

Nike — which began publicly backing former NFL player Kaepernick in 2018 with a major advertising campaign that supported his kneeling demonstration — reportedly responded to the suggestion by saying that it should not wait to “be part of the broader social justice conversations” while it addressed internal dynamics. 

“Our brand has celebrated incredible black athletes and inspired millions of people all over the world by amplifying their excellence,” Nike told the Financial Times in a statement. “Internally, we have made progress across our [diversity and inclusion] efforts, and we recognise that we have a lot more work to do.” The company added that it is “aiming to increase representation of black, Latinx and female employees across all levels.”

After disclosing its fiscal fourth quarter earnings in June, which saw sales decline 38% year-over-year, the company announced it would be laying off at least 500 employees at its Beaverton, Ore. headquarters alone beginning in October. Of the layoffs, 192 will come from one of the company’s three childcare centers, and others will include members of Nike’s corporate leadership team and some of their executive assistants.

Worldwide layoffs will result in termination costs of $200 million to $250 million, the company said.