Sports Law Blog
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Friday, July 21, 2006
The Salivating Army? Shoe Companies that Donate Free Sneakers to Youth Basketball Players
A couple of weeks ago, we discussed Eli Saslow's excellent piece in the Washington Post on Justin Jenifer, the 10-year old basketball phenom who is already being aggressively recruited by shoe companies. This theme of marketers' exploitation of kid athletes resonates again in Mark Alesia's excellent piece in the Indianapolis Star on shoe companies "donating" free sneakers to youth basketball teams that often feature elite players. Interestingly, the schools receiving these sneakers may be violating Title IX, since only the boys' teams tend to get the donations, while the girls' teams do not. As a result, the boys get free sneakers while the girls end up paying a lot of money for the female version of the same shoes.
I think there are two stories going on here.
1) The Gender Equity Story: the obvious, but still important story. Shoe companies supplying sneakers to boys but not girls is probably a wide-spread phenomenon, and is probably apparent in every state. The disparity in treatment probably comprises a violation of Title IX, which takes a fairly inclusive approach to measuring equal athletic opportunity students of both sexes. In fact, Title IX expressly instructs the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to ensure that there is "equivalent treatment, benefits, and opportunities" in equipment and supplies (among other things). This is the kind of story that got Title IX passed in the first place, and one that further validates its existence.
2) The Sneaker Marketing Story: the more interesting story, I think, because it's subtler and yet potentially far more significant. Consider recent comments by Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, told to Julie Sabatier of the New Standard:
In a way, Linn's comments remind me of a complaint against the tobacco industry and their public service advertisements: those PSAs seem to provide a forum for companies with dubious histories to rectify their image, which turn may help their sales (and thus achieve the opposite of what the PSAs were ostensibly designed to achieve). In a recent Wisconsin Law Review article, I outlined a similar idea in regards to fast food companies promoting "eat well" campaigns, while simultaneously promoting the consumption of Big Macs and Happy Meals etc.
It would be interesting to hear what these shoe companies have to say about their donations, but they have declined comment. I imagine that they have concluded that the value of the brand loyalty they are establishing with boys is worth more than the cost of the donated sneakers, while for girls, they have reached the opposite conclusion: the value of establishing that type of brand loyalty is less than the cost of donations.
Economically-sensible, perhaps, but socially desirable?
Note: the picture above is from Aaron Renier's art collection.