Nike's new ad campaign for its Hyperdunk shoes features a series of pictures of basketball players getting dunked on in what's considered the worst way possible: the dunker dangling off the rim, his balls dangling in the face of the man being dunk-ee. They all have dynamic slogans like "That Ain't Right!" The company has been plastering them around NYC's most famous streetball meccas, like Harlem (home to The Rucker) and West 4th St. Their rollout coincides with a big foofaraw this week (which some critics say is stupid oversensitivity) over whether the ad industry is making blatantly homophobic ads. All of which raises the question: Are these Nike ads a new low in homophobic advertising? Or do the gays just not understand basketball?
Let's lay out the facts:
1. These ads do indeed depict what is widely considered to be the most humiliating possible thing that can happen to someone on a basketball court.
2. That humiliation arises from the balls-in-face aspect of the dunk, meaning it is fundamentally a homophobic sentiment. At least subconsciously.
3. Nike's ad placement shows they're appealing to a very specific basketball player/ fan demographic. It's doubtful they'd use this same ad campaign for the general public, without some tweaks.
There's also a racial aspect at work here, although it's more fuzzy. One strict interpretation would be that Nike is even more irresponsible for fomenting and supporting homophobia in the black community, where AIDS rates are higher and homophobia is, therefore, more deadly. The opposite, but equally strict, interpretation would be that basketball is a sport with lots of black players at its highest levels, and therefore using black slang, etc. in ads targeted specifically at basketball players is only natural and right.
Leaving aside my unrelated general hatred of Nike, I have to take a slightly more forgiving line with them here. Context is important! Didn't we learn anything from the freaking New Yorker's Obama cover? Hardcore basketball fans would scarcely think twice about these ads, except maybe to chuckle. Trash talk is a fundamental part of streetball.
That said, the larger point is that the joke here-as in other campaigns revolving around ALL OF AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR SPORTS-is based on the implacable homophobia of straight jocks. That can't be denied. So Nike should pull the ads. Or rework them to be friendlier to gay basketball fans, at least. Be aspirational, you bastards! The sad part is that this isn't a new low in homophobic advertising. It's the sports status quo.