Some Conneaut School Board members appear ready to stand up to Nike because of a former NFL player's kneeling.
A vote to purchase sports equipment for the next school year was tabled by Conneaut School Board due to political disagreements about some of the products involved.
Board members John Burnham, Theressa Miller, Don Ellis Jr. and Tim McQuiston all announced Wednesday they would vote "no" on the purchase due to some of the equipment coming from Nike. The opposition led the remaining board members to vote to table the motion until next month.
Burnham was the first to announce his opposition to the measure. In a short interview before the board went into an executive session, Burnham elaborated on why he was against the purchase.
"Nike has demonstrated, in my mind, some poor choices in marketing," Burnham said.
He further clarified that he disagreed with the company's association with Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers player who began kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games in 2016 in protest of police brutality. Kaepernick has since become a Nike spokesman.
The Tribune has reached out to Nike for comment and has not yet heard back.
The other three dissenting board members expressed similar sentiments in interviews before the executive session. Miller expressed opposition to a more recent Nike decision when, in July 2019, the company canceled a planned shoe bearing the original Betsy Ross version of the American flag. Miller said while she believes Nike, as a private business, is allowed to make such decisions, she thought the school district should spend money on companies that express similar viewpoints to the board.
Ellis criticized Nike for having what he viewed as a lack of support for America's military. McQuiston said he agreed with the comments of the other dissenting voters and offered no further comment.
The purchase in its initial form amounted to $31,232.07 and was split across several vendors, including Pyramid School Products and M-F Athletic Company & Perform Better. Included in the purchase would be equipment for the school district's golf, football, cross country, volleyball, soccer, wrestling, basketball, softball, baseball and lacrosse teams, as well as general first aid equipment. Examples of equipment include mouth guards, hats, uniforms, new balls and other such items.
After the four announced their opposition, Business Manager Greg Mayle said the school district could rebid the purchase with the specification of excluding Nike products. Mayle acknowledged that decision would incur some additional costs due to the need to re-advertise the bid. Solicitor George Joseph suggested separating out the bids that don't contain Nike products and approving those separately at the school board's next meeting.
Mayle, speaking to the Tribune on Thursday, said it would cost around $250 to re-advertise the bids. He also said it is possible that the total cost of purchasing the equipment could rise from the initial $31,232.07 figure.
"That could potentially happen," Mayle said. "The other competitors that are able to provide clothing and uniforms, which is what most of the Nike items were, do tend to run a little more expensive than Nike does."
Mayle estimated roughly half of the equipment were uniforms though noted not all uniforms slated to be purchased were from Nike.
District Athletic Director John Acklin was not present at Wednesday's meeting, but he said Thursday he was taken by surprise when he learned of the news. He said he had not had forward knowledge that any of the board members were opposed to Nike equipment and wished he knew ahead of time so he could have avoided including Nike products beforehand.
Acklin estimated that the Nike purchases would have comprised around $8,000 of the total cost of equipment purchases slated for this year and noted they included some significant pieces of equipment. For example, the district was going to buy around $2,500 worth of football shoes from Nike, an annual purchase he said has been made for the past several years.
Acklin also said some of the items included in the purchase were on a special discount which would end at the close of February, meaning the delay in the vote could cost the district more money alongside the additional advertising cost.
"It seems obvious to me they could have told us earlier," Acklin said.
Acklin estimated the district has "very little" pre-existing Nike equipment, mostly purchasing uniforms from Under Armour, with the football shoes being an exception.
Despite the opposition from the four board members, the remaining five members of the board could have approved the purchase in a 5-4 vote. Instead, the board withdrew the motion on the purchase and voted unanimously to table the item.
"At this point, I think that all of the members wanted some additional time to review the details a bit closer to see how many items were affected," board President Dorothy Luckock said in a Tribune interview Thursday. "I believe that some of us haven't had the opportunity — just (due to) personal time constraints — between last week and this week to review as many of those details as they wanted to prior to the vote."
The delay is not expected to affect the current school year's sports season. Superintendent Jarrin Sperry said the district began a practice a few years ago of purchasing equipment a year ahead of time in order to get equipment cheaper, as many items are discounted around spring.
Luckock said at Wednesday's meeting the board would verify that none of the current district teams would be affected by the tabling of the purchase.
Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.