There are very few true heroes these days. A hero is neither a star athlete, nor a paper billionaire who create a dot com empire. A real hero is one who takes on a battle at great risk to himself.
Jim Keady is a true American hero. Keady was a young professional soccer player and a soccer coach. Just after St. John's University in Queens, New York, had won the National Collegiate soccer championship, it hired Mr. Keady to be its goalkeeper coach. It was a perfect job for Keady, a dream come true.
The timing was good for Jim Keady because he wanted to earn his master's degree in religion and St. John's has an excellent program. Keady started working for the soccer program and attending graduate classes.
For his thesis Keady began to research the ethics of a Catholic university receiving money from Nike, Inc. which pays its overseas workers as little as possible and takes advantage of sweatshop conditions. Keady spent months researching the facts of Nike's refusal to pay decent wages in country after country. He studied the ethics of the situation and wrote a thoughtful analysis of whether a Catholic institution should accept money from exploitive companies like Nike. Keady's professor approved of his work and agreed with his conclusion: A Catholic university should not take money from Nike.
When Jim Keady started his coaching career at St. John's, it did not have a contract with Nike. However, just as he started his research on the Nike Corporation, the athletic shoe importer started negotiating with St. John's University for an exclusive relationship with the college.
At meetings at the school Jim Keady spoke up against the contract between St. John's and Nike. He told of how Nike mistreats its employees in Indonesia, China and Vietnam. He recounted how the Indonesian Supreme Court ruled that Nike failed to pay even the miserable minimum wage prescribed by that country.
The university told Keady to cut it out. He wouldn't. Jim refused to wear Nike clothing with its omnipresent swoosh and he refused to stop exercising his constitutional right of free speech. Finally, the head soccer coach gave Keady an ultimatum: either wear the swoosh or get out. Keady refused to wear Nike's clothing and shoes and was forced out of the university.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must inform you that I agreed to represent Jim Keady in a federal lawsuit against Nike and St. John's University. I met Jim when he gave a speech outside the U.S. Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C., last summer during a protest against sweatshops.
Every day that goes by, Nike is commercializing more and more of America. I have recently learned that high school cheerleaders in many high schools across the country are now forced to wear Nike shoes. Soon, junior high school athletes will be forced to wear Nike logos, and then elementary school children. When will it all stop?
College athletes and coaches are being forced to wear the Nike swoosh. Professional athletes in the NFL and the NBA must wear Nike symbols on their uniforms. Who is going to say NO to Nike?
Only one man has stood up to Nike and said NO. Rather than wear Nike shoes and clothing Jim Keady said that he could not in good conscience wear clothing made by a company that exploits workers around the world.
Mr. Keady sacrificed his job for his beliefs. Not many would choose their conscience over their employment, but he did. St. John's University chose money over its principles, $3.5 million in tainted money from Nike.
Jim Keady is now suing Nike and St. John's University for violating his civil rights and for trying to ruin his reputation. Keady also had a contract with St. John's and is claiming that the university breached that contract. When he entered into the contract with St. John's, Nike was not the soccer team's sponsor. If Keady recovers money as a result of this lawsuit he has agreed to donate it to charity.
Keady argues that college soccer players are unpaid professionals, advertising billboards for multibillion dollar corporate marketing machines. While universities can sell their souls, and sell advertising at their stadia, Keady argues, they have no right to require amateur athletes to be poster jocks for athletic shoe companies.
Jim Keady is my hero. He deserves the thanks of millions of Americans who did not have the courage to say NO to Nike. Wear Nike clothing and shoes if you want to, but don't coerce amateur athletes to wear logos that they despise. And don't force teenage cheerleaders to wear Nike shoes just so everyone's shoes match. Allow teenagers to think for themselves, and if they decide that they don't want to wear shoes made by virtual slaves they shouldn't be forced to.
Hopefully, we will foster the development of more and more heroes willing to take on the Goliaths of the corporate world.
Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American products in the United States and overseas. Write him at P.O. Box 5402, Washington, DC 20016; phone 202-822-6060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.