October 10, 1995 in Features

‘If You Let Me Play Sports…’ Nike Ad Uses Powerful Statistics To Encourage Girls To Participate

Margo Harakas Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

It has the look of cinema verite, quick camera takes and slow-mo shots of girls on a playground. Over the muffled sounds of play come their haunting voices:

“If you let me play, if you let me play sports …”

And then the litany:

“I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer … will suffer less depression … will be more likely to leave a man who beats me … less likely to get pregnant … I will learn what it means to be strong. If you let me play … play sports. If you let me play sports.”

This powerful message in support of women’s sports is brought to us - on prime time TV - by Nike. First aired on NBC Aug. 30, the commercial, written and produced by women, is part of the company’s continuing Just Do It campaign. The response, says Nike spokeswoman Vizhier Corpus, has been overwhelming, with a 90 percent thumbs-up rating.

“It’s certainly a stunning ad,” says Marj Snyder, sports psychologist and associate director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, headquartered in East Meadow, N.Y. “As a woman you feel: That could have been me as a kid. I felt like that before, and I didn’t get to play.”

The poignant 30-second drama, appearing on MTV, ESPN, Nick at Night, The Discovery Channel and other channels, delves into areas previously unexplored in sports advertising.

“Our message, which is directed to parents,” says Corpus, “is that sports is no less valuable to girls than to boys. If you are a parent interested in raising a girl who is physically and emotionally strong, then look to sports as a means to that end.”

Dads particularly are urged to heed the commercial. “If you’re taking Billy out to play catch, take Amy out, too.”

Feminists generally applaud the commercial.

“The girls are still in a position of having to beg and to ask others to get to play, and that makes me both sad and angry,” says Dorothy Leland, director of the Women’s Studies Center at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla.

“On the other hand, what the girls are saying gives some fairly positive messages about how girls have been disadvantaged by not being allowed to play sports.”

Karen Johnson, national secretary of the National Organization for Women, agrees. “I think it’s a significant message to send. Building self-esteem is critical to a girl’s health.” And sports can work toward that end, enhancing a girl’s selfimage, she says.

Even so, one might ask whether the ad presents a reductionist view of the complex problems facing women.

“There’s a sense of depicting the lot of all women as being fairly miserable, and that somehow being allowed to play sports is a cure-all for that,” Leland says. “Sports is not the way out of the ghetto, and not the way up in society for women, either, except for a very small percentage.”

Then again, “it’s only a commercial,” Johnson says. “You’ve got 30 seconds to send a message.”

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