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The Fanatics Disaster Is Also A Nike Disaster

Atmosphere at the Nike Air Innovation Summit held at the Palais Brongniart on April 11, 2024 in Paris, France.
Dominique Maitre/WWD via Getty Images

It’s been a real honey of an O of a month for Nike. While looking very strongly into their current on-field MLB uniform fiasco, the Swoosh also carved out time to piss off the nation’s running community by introducing track and field designs for the U.S. Summer Olympic team that included bikini bottoms cut high enough for Kathy Ireland to wear them during a 1990 SI cover shoot. Nike responded to that outcry in much the same way they responded to the Great Baseball Diaper Crisis of ‘24: by telling everyone that this was all the athletes’ idea.

Mr. Hoke also pointed out that Nike consults with a large number of athletes at every stage of the uniform design. Its track and field roster includes Sha’Carri Richardson, who happened to be wearing the compression shorts during the Paris presentation, and Athing Mu. And there are certainly runners who like the high-cut brief.


Nike is aided in this crisis by the fact that many of their products are now manufactured by Fanatics. That company’s CEO, legendary sweet guy and pretend workaholic Michael Rubin, insists that his company was merely following Nike’s orders when it shipped all of those awful uniforms to MLB teams. No one believed Rubin, because he’s a con man and because his company has a long-established track record of making terrible products. So that made him a perfect meat shield for Nike, which could sit by and let another company take the lion’s share of blame. And if that failed, they could just say, Well, Jason Heyward thought his new uni was pretty cool.

But Fanatics wasn’t involved at all with the making of the U.S. track and field uniforms. In fact, Nike was PROUD of the work they’d done on their lonesome for the U.S. team, trumpeting their new athlingerie as part of a greater effort to further disrupt the cushioned air space. And those shoddy MLB unis really were designed by Nike, which touted by them as a titanic leap forward in ball sweat-wicking technology:

Developed over multiple years, the Nike Vapor Premier jersey was engineered to improve mobility, moisture management and fit, while keeping sustainability in mind… It also provides 25% more stretch and allows the jersey to dry 28% faster, with moisture-wicking Dri-Fit ADV technology to help ensure athletes stay cool all game long.

I think you see the pattern here. Nike, not unlike a host of other once-vaunted companies, is making cheaper, worse products and selling them as the future made real. They’re also cutting workers by the thousands. This is right out of Silicon Valley playbook, which a company like Nike isn't supposed to be reading from.

This is because, for my entire lifetime, Nike has been cool. They had the coolest shoes. They repped the coolest athletes and had the bright idea to give those athletes their own signature product lines (watch Ben Affleck’s Air, perhaps the least essential film I’ve ever seen, if you’d like to find out more). And they had the best ads. Bo knows. Chicks dig the long ball. I am not a role model. When I was a kid, I wanted Nike shoes. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an NFL player and have a Nike contract. When I was working in the ad business as an adult, I wanted to work on the Nike account, because they, along with their longtime ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, represented the apex of the profession.

I am now 47 and I wear Skechers, because no Nike sneaker has felt comfortable on my feet since 1993. If I own any Nike apparel, it’s likely because I got it off the rack at TJ Maxx. The Nike brand that exists in the mind has nothing to do with the Nike that’s currently squeezing their athletes into near-thongs and misappropriated ballet tights. That they’re willing to get into bed with Fanatics, and give them control over products as genuinely consequential as Caitlin Clark’s first pro uniform, says even more the current state of Nike than it does about their bumbling manufacturer. What kind of shitass company lets Michael Rubin take command of their most important products?

Turns out, it's one that never really had its athletes’ or your best interests in mind. It’s not just Sha’Carri Richardson whom Nike has used for cynical purposes. It's Jordan, too. And Barkley. And Bo. And Kaep. And Clark. It's all of them. All of these athletes have been paid to help Nike build up decades of goodwill with an eager public, which bought them a free pass from people like me whenever they fucked up. That’s what billions and billions of dollars in ad spending can buy you, if you’re shrewd enough.

But I'm more shrewd now, too. I know that Nike’s current products are anodyne at best and flawed at worst. I know that their better products of yesteryear were made under inhumane working conditions. I know that venerated Nike founder Phil Knight is a man who’s only liberal when it makes for a profitable marketing strategy. And I know that admitting Nike sucks now means admitting that it always has. Naming their latest product lines after things that are not tangible, Air and Vapor, is all too appropriate. This is a nothing company that stands for nothing, and is built on nothing. I can see right through it, all the way to Bryce Harper's dick.

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