Here’s an inviting opportunity for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the rambling revs who are always on the scout for a lucrative corporate target. Or even President Obama, who is eager to slice and dice the electorate and assign each slice something to take offense at on his way to Nov. 6.
This opportunity could give them the chance to clean up America and make a little money at it. Adidas and Nike, the ugly shoe giants, have given Americans the ugliest (and stinkiest) feet in the world, even though the rest of the world is swiftly catching up as the American culture envelops the globe.
Tennis shoes were once the modest province of the gym, but now they’re worn by millions whose idea of exercise is hoisting a few at the end of the day. Anyone who has had to sit next to Ugly Feet on bus, train or plane, and watch in horror as he (or she) slips out of his or her shoes to get comfortable, knows what it is to sit helplessly at risk of agonizing death from the toxic odor of feet that have not been washed since the previous millennium.
Nike is on a mission to uglify college football teams with garish uniforms that the girls on the softball team would be ashamed to wear. The college administrators and athletic directors are delighted to conspire with Nike, not only because Nike makes it financially rewarding to coaches and administrators, but because it might give coaches a leg up in recruiting the “student-athletes” (in the popular sports-page cliche) who stop briefly on campus en route to the NFL or state prison.
Now comes Adidas, the other major perpetrator of the uglification of the republic, soon to introduce something one commentator calls a “slave shoe,” an oversized tennis shoe with attached shackles in bright orange, similar in appearance to the shackles worn by slaves in an earlier benighted era in the nation’s history. An Adidas advertisement asks innocently: “Got a game so hot you lock your kicks to your ankles?”
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University, obviously gets no kick from the game, hot or not.
“Shackles [are] the stuff that our ancestors wore for 400 years while experiencing the most horrific atrocities imaginable,” he writes for “Your Black World,” an online journal. “Most of [the atrocities] which were never documented in the history books [were] kept away from you in the educational system, all so you’d be willing to put shackles on your ankles today and not be so sensitive about it. There’s always a group of Negroes who are more than happy to resubmit themselves to slavery.”
The professor overstates things, but only to a degree. The atrocities of slavery, first among them the very fact of one man owning another, were so well documented that the atrocities of slavery were among the causes that led to the great civil war that echoes across the years even today. He even likens the shoes to something he calls “the prison industrial complex, which is the most genocidal thing to happen to the black family since slavery itself.” We take the professor’s point without swallowing the purple ink.
The “slave shoes” by Adidas are not, in fact, the first prison phenomenon to move into “the free-world culture.” The fashionable droopy drawers, worn by “student-athletes” and NBA millionaires alike, trace their origins to prisons, where belts are forbidden and prisoners keep their pants up in other ways. Kids wore their own pants low on the crack in tribute to their fathers, uncles and brothers behind bars. The colleges and pros soon followed the schoolyard example.
Nike stepped on its marketing plan earlier this year with a $100 shoe called “the Black and Tan,” to commemorate the enthusiastic swilling of green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. The Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force was dispatched to Ireland to suppress revolt in the 1920s in the black wool and khaki cotton that gave them their name. Nike adopted the name with a remarkable ignorance of history, and advertised the shoe with the message: ” ‘tis the season for Irish beer and why not celebrate with Nike?” The shoe fetishists soon apologized.
No apologies yet from Adidas, but no doubt they’re coming soon. Nobody is taught much about history now, but expensive lessons are often learned in law and economics.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.