BTB: New Nike ad: A compelling cry for respect of female athletes


Elise Covert, Print Managing Co-Editor

Nike released a new ad titled “Dream Crazier,” narrated by Serena Williams, on Feb. 24 during the Oscars. The video has accumulated over 6.5 million views on YouTube in only three days. Many high profile female athletes have shared the ad on their social media platforms in a renewed collective call for recognition and equality of women in the world of athletics.


Williams was selected to do the voice-over after her passionate outburst during the final match of the U.S. Open in September 2018 garnered international attention and sparked debate about the perception and treatment of female athletes. She was fined $17,000 for smashing her racket and for “verbal abuse” against the umpire. Whereas Williams’ show of emotion in a high-stakes match was seen as hysterical and unacceptable, many male athletes who have voiced much more hot-headed criticisms of officials are simply seen as passionate. The female sports world responded with outrage, saying that the decision exposed the double standard of gender in athletics.


The video features a montage of female athletes expressing emotion in their sport, contesting a referee’s call, or breaking a performance record – all actions that have, at some point in history, been deemed “crazy.” Consider, for example, Brandi Chastain ripping her shirt off after the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team’s 1999 World Cup penalty kick victory. Take Kathrine Switzer, whom Boston Marathon officials tried to force off the course during her historic run. Think Becky Hammon, the NBA’s first female assistant coach. Through Williams’s words, Nike encourages us to recognize females’ emotions and accomplishments in sports as entirely legitimate.


It’s not the first time that Nike has capitalized on the social controversy in their advertising campaigns, as they ran an ad in September 2018 featuring Colin Kaepernick, who received wide criticism for kneeling during the National Anthem. But the Serena Williams ad comes at a key time for women’s sports. It has become a rallying cry for female athletes to call for the respect they deserve, and at a much-needed time in sports history. In an environment still reeling from the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar for sex abuse of over 300 gymnasts in the U.S. Gymnastics system, Nike’s ad has already lent a stage for a diverse set of female athletes to call for even more dramatic change.


The year 2019 certainly has not been void of victories for women in sports. On Jan. 3, Williams and Roger Federer, two of the world’s tennis greats, faced off in a mixed doubles match in Perth, Australia. Federer, who won the match on the scorecard, was a class act and commented on Serena’s dedication and sportsmanship. “It was great fun and she is a great champion,” Federer said. “You can see how focused she is and that’s what I love about her.”


Additionally, Simone Biles was named ESPN’s Most Dominant Athlete of 2018. On Jan. 26, Kendall Coyne Schofield became the first woman to skate in the NHL All-Star skills competition. Coyne Schofield finished seventh in the race, finishing only one second behind former league MVP Connor McDavid. And on Feb. 27, Toni Harris became the first female skill position player to receive a college football scholarship. The list is sure to grow as the year goes on.


Despite these momentous advances for female athletes, we have a long way to go before women are fully respected and recognized for their contributions to athletics. And it’s not a stretch to extrapolate Nike’s message to apply it to the perception and treatment of women in broader society. The “ideal” woman is still seen as a supportive and motherly figure, whereas the “ideal” man is strong and tough. We are far past due the time for a change of these gendered norms and expectations. The fiery female athlete is just as much of a woman as the stereotypical devoted mother. Neither is more important nor a “better” example of what a woman should be. In fact, one woman can fill both those roles, as Serena Williams has publicly and proudly demonstrated.


The ad closes with the statement “It’s only crazy until you do it. Just do it.” It is a universal call to action for women – in and out of the sports world – to turn gender norms on their head.

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