Put the politics and burning shoes aside, an important message is getting lost

On a dreary Saturday afternoon, my family sat around the house. Rain dripped outside, dinner was in the oven, I worked (scrolled through facebook) on my computer, my son wrote out his last thank you cards from his birthday party, and the television played in the background. Nike’s newest commercial came on, and somewhere in the middle, my son and I both looked up.

Commercials have a certain appeal to kids. My son is easily mesmerized by the loud voices and bright images that infomercials employ to capture their attention. Most parents have probably heard the completely random description of a product you just must purchase for your house, and responded with a combination of confusion and disappointment. But the look on my son’s face today, during this newest “Just Do It” ad, was different. He was focused, engaged, and there was a sense of wonder that I had not seen recently.

I had already seen the ad once before, actually after I had already heard the arguments for and against it. At the end of this viewing, I was preparing myself for a question from my son – who is that guy? – as Colin Kaepernick speaks to the camera. He’s old enough to know that he must be someone important, but young enough to have not seen him play football. Yet, the question didn’t come. He looked on with interest for a few seconds after the commercial ended, and then went back to his thank you cards.

Soon, I happened to scroll past a facebook video analyzing the political and business sides of Nike’s new ad. These elements are clearly taking over the conversation about the commercial, and while I find them interesting, my son’s look made me think that a lot of us might be missing something. I know that Nike is a company mainly focused on making money and that the political conversation about this issue can be meaningful. But just for a second, let’s put them aside and consider the content of the commercial.

Here are some of the images my son watched:

A young athlete with no legs doing pushups and wrestling competitively.

 

A young muslim woman wearing a hijab and boxing.

 

Ghanaian refugee Alphonso Davies scoring for the Canadian national team.

 

LeBron James opening an elementary school.

 

Shaquem Griffin, a young man with one hand, playing football at the highest level of college football.

 

Young Serena Williams practicing in Compton and then playing in the U.S. Open.

 

Young athletes dreaming next to grown athletes achieving their wildest dreams.

 

Here are some of the words my son heard:

If people say your dreams are crazy. If they laugh at what you think you can do…Good. Stay that way. Because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult, it’s a compliment.

 

Don’t picture yourself wearing OBJ’s jersey, picture OBJ wearing yours.

 

Don’t become the best basketball player on the planet. Be bigger than basketball.

 

Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask if they’re crazy enough.

 

Recently, my eight year-old soccer-loving son asked what he should do when he is playing for Chelsea, and Juventus wants to buy him away, but he doesn’t want to play for Juve. His dreams are absolutely crazy right now. I have struggled with the parenting challenge of being honest with him about the probability of him playing in college, let alone professionally, versus my excitement that he is dreaming big and practicing soccer almost every day.

I used to dream of playing almost every professional sport. While I soon learned the almost impossible nature of all those dreams, they were both fun (playing out great games in my backyard) and motivating (enough to wake up an hour early and practice basketball in my driveway before the bus arrived for school). Eventually, I realized that playing professional sports is hardly the only way to be happy and make a difference in the world. My son will most likely (yeah, I’m still holding out on that 0.1% possibility) go through these same stages and hopefully make a difference in the world beyond sports. This commercial connects to both.

This commercial also brings out a full spectrum of thoughts for me.

I am no more likely to buy a pair of Nikes after this commercial than I was before (at least consciously). I don’t really want to get into a political discussion about the commercial with most people. I also don’t want to be too cynical about what ultimately boils down to a purely financial decision for Nike.

I am happy that my son saw those images and heard those words. I truly wonder how his brain took in all of that information and how he might use it. I appreciate the fact that a company created a commercial that speaks beyond a swoosh logo (even though it is prominently displayed throughout).

I hope my son saw the valuable images I did. I hope other kids do too. I hope it inspires kids to dream big. I hope kids see the diversity of images on the screen and value those differences in a way that they haven’t before. I hope it inspires my son to hang on to his crazy dreams at least a little while longer. I hope it allows him to connect with the image of a kid with an equally crazy dream in a different part of the world that looks different than he does.

I also want it be more than just hope. As a teacher, I believe in the possibility of these hopes becoming reality. But we live in a world that deserves cynicism, and hope is often reserved for children. I don’t want this to be an example of adults creating something meaningful and then getting in the way of that very same meaning taking hold of the children it is meant to inspire.

So, for now, while shoes burn and talking heads discuss the economics of Nike’s ad, I’ll let my son watch these images as many times as he can, and I will believe in the potential power of those words.*

 

I might even ask my son about the commercial at some point, or hope that he asks me. I also know not to push the conversation too far. Just the other day, I spoke with a group of parents at our school about the fact that we, adults, think differently about topics than our kids, and we shouldn’t push the conversation beyond their needs, because most of that conversation lives somewhere in my brain that he doesn’t even begin to consider. I can acknowledge that there is a distinct possibility that I am thinking about this way more deeply than I should.

 

 

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