Corporate Unrest

The ‘Black at Nike’ Instagram accused the brand of racism. Then it vanished.

Nike says it had nothing to do with it, even as the account owner warned about its disappearance hours before it happened.

Last month, just after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer sparked protests and outcry about racism and inequality in the U.S., an Instagram account called "Black at Nike" was created. The page, which described itself as "Amplifying Black voices from current and former Nike employees," began posting stories from anonymous people of color who allegedly dealt with racism inside the company. "A white coworker told me that I was a sure win for a promotion because of all of this 'Diversity stuff,'" read one of the posts.

Gone out of nowhere — Yesterday, @blackatnike mysteriously disappeared, not long after the account shared an Instagram Story that pointed to @WomenatNike and @LGBTatNike — two pages that were posting similar claims about other minority groups at the company — disappearing from the app. "In case this account also vanishes, remember..." the Black at Nike Instagram account said. Nike, however, denies it had anything to do with the account being removed. "We have no knowledge of who owns the accounts or why they were taken down," a Nike spokesperson told Input in a statement.

While unnamed sources told Footwear News that "they suspect Nike is behind the erasure of various accounts," Instagram has confirmed to Input that it did not work with the sportswear giant to remove the account. Facebook said there are a number of reasons why a page may no longer be accessible, including if the account holder deleted or deactivated the account personally or if they changed the username.

Sheena Butler-Young / Footwear News

Giving people a voice — The people behind Black at Nike didn't answer multiple requests from Input to speak on the record, but the owner told the publication Nice Kicks that the page was designed to be a space where current and former employees could voice concerns about racial discriminations happening at the brand, as well as its lack of diversity and inclusion at every level, including leadership.

"Many have been suffering in silence, alone. Many have been laid off due to retaliation. Many feel like they should just shut up and work, in fear of not being able to thrive in the corporate system. This account is to finally give these people a voice and to share their stories,” the Black at Nike account owner said to Nice Kicks. "This account is also for the masses at Nike who have benefitted from these racial prejudices against Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous employees, and either had no idea it was happening, were too scared to speak up, or were too self-centered to care."

Diversity and inclusion at the Swoosh — In a separate statement, Nike told Input one of its main focuses as a company is to address these kinds of issues, and give employees a voice, noting that it is working effortlessly to improve its culture. "We believe that diversity of people and perspectives fuels the best ideas. We continue to strengthen our recruitment, promotion and retention of diverse talent throughout the company and to drive the change we want to see," the company added. "Nike is at its best when every member of the team feels respected, included and heard — when everyone can show up fully as themselves and have the opportunity to do their best work every day."

Nike has a long history of standing against bigotry, hatred, and inequality, and is working to address its own role in that conversation. The company pointed to its annual Impact Report, which provides detailed information on steps Nike is taking to address its commitment to diversity and inclusion. As part of that, the company said, it added two Board Directors from underrepresented groups in 2018 and one more in 2019, including the CEO of Chase Thasunda B. Duckett and Peter B. Henry, Dean Emeritus of NYU’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and William R. Berkley Professor of Economics and Finance. Nike also recently added more women representation at the VP level, which it says is now at a total of 39 percent.

"Black at Nike" had 55 posts on Instagram up until it vanished.

A deeper problem — The problem for Nike, however, is that many of the allegations posted on the Black at Nike Instagram page highlighted issues across the entire company — all the way from retail to public relations. "As a WOC working in Brand Jordan, I was told to cover up and dress more masculine to fit the Jordan vibe," another post on @blackatnike claimed. "At the same time, I witnessed my white, younger, female colleague appropriate culture from every aspect. Because that's deemed as someone who is connected to the culture, [they] receive[d] preferential treatment from our older white director. I was set up for failure and was ostracized because I chose to call out inequality."

Of course, the argument could be made that these could be disgruntled former employees looking to lash out at Nike, but it's not as if the company doesn't have a history of social controversies and a toxic work environment. Just a couple of years ago, there was a revolt by women after a series of sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases went unaddressed at the brand. According to The New York Times, "There were blunted career paths. Women were made to feel marginalized in meetings and were passed over for promotions. They were largely excluded from crucial divisions like basketball. When they complained to human resources, they said, they saw little or no evidence that bad behavior was being penalized."

"We know there is more work to do," said Nike. "We will continue to increase representation and strengthen our culture of belonging."