Apr 122011
Authors: Brittany Lancaster

When Jim Keady refused to wear and promote Nike attire, he was forced to resign as a coach for the St. Johns men’s soccer team, the defending NCAA Division I national champions.

Keady spoke in the Lory Student Center North Ballroom last night on Nike sweatshops and social justice as part of an educating for justice lecture program titled Behind the Swoosh.

Evan Barrett, an employee with the Association for Student Activity Programming, said the group chose to host Keady because of the passion he demonstrates for the subject and his skill at addressing the current issues surrounding sweatshops.

He was attending graduate school studying theology and coaching soccer at St. John’s University when an assignment brought the injustices behind the Nike Corporation’s production practices to his attention. He was assigned a paper tasking him to link sports to moral theology; this research paper was one of the many agents that led him to his now 13-year mission to improve the living and working conditions in Nike’s overseas factory workers.

He has presented his Behind the Swoosh lecture to more than 400 universities in 39 states and three different countries. Keady said when he resigned in protest, he was the first and only athlete or coach to say “no” to taking part in a Nike endorsement deal based on its sweatshop abuse.

“Nike is the largest sportswear company in the world; St. Johns is the largest Catholic university. It was a complete contradiction … I don’t try to follow the textbook Jesus Christ, I try to follow the Jesus that was a radical revolutionary who died for what he believed in,” Keady said.

During the time Keady was coaching at St. Johns, the school was also undergoing a $3.5 million endorsement deal with Nike. As part of his job, he was required to order the Nike gear for the team, igniting the uneasiness inside him. The head coach of the program gave him an ultimatum in May 1998 to wear the gear and drop the issue or resign; Keady was forced to resign in June 1998.

Being forced to choose between his two passions, Keady said, was a difficult dilemma.

“I wish I could say it was cut and dry, an easy choice of human rights over my love for soccer, but it was really hard, and in hindsight I know I made the right decision,” he said.

He has now spent one third of his life on his mission for social justice, as a theologian, activist, educator, elected official and founding director of Educating for Justice, Inc. EFJ is a New Jersey-based nonprofit company that educates and organizes citizens to promote peace and justice in the world.

Senior double major in finance and real estate Ted Briones, who’s also the president of Summit Student Investment Fund, said he came to Behind the Swoosh because of the salience of the issue.

“I have never been to any presentation that left me feeling so angry, nauseous and excited to do something all at once … I can’t wait to share this issue with my organization and apply the issue,” Briones said.

In July 2000, Keady lived in a slum with Nike factory workers in Indonesia on the $1.25-a-day wage –– what the typical Nike worker would receive. He spent his time there in a nine-by-nine cement living space with no furniture or utilities and reported losing 25 pounds in one month.

Having not only found but experienced the truth about the Nike workers’ living conditions, it was enough for Keady to decide that something had to be done. During his talk, Keady demonstrated how workers wages would play out in daily life, using the highest monthly wage of a worker in Rupiah, the currency of Indonesia.

After a rent of 200.000 Rp, water at 110.000 and transportation at 600.000, only 423.000 would be left over, which, on average, is enough for one meal every day.

Keady said the conversion to dollars was unnecessary because simply knowing that the workers are not paid a living wage was enough.

“The workers are not paid enough to purchase the products they make … there is no way you can live on $1.25 a day and keep your human dignity,” Keady said.

While he did attest to progress from his work, Keady said there is still a long way to go. Some of the progress made includes a change in menstrual leave and how union organizations run.

For the legal right for a female worker to have a two-day leave based on her menstrual cycle, officials degraded her by forcing her to prove it by pulling down her pants and showing blood in her underwear. After enough public embarrassment, Nike no longer has that particular requirement. Also, union organizers are no longer under physical intimidation when attempting to fight for their rights.

“People at the top of Nike like the athletes and the executives should care about the factory workers of Nike, not just because they are a piece of the company but because they are human beings,” Keady said.

Staff writer Brittany Lancaster can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:19 pm

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.