‘At the end of the day, it is going to be a symbol to the world and visitors about why this is important…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Take one virtue-signaling shoe company, add a pompous, grandstanding former president, and what do you have?
In the case of Nike, it’s a new basketball gym for Chicago‘s Barack Obama Presidential Center—already facing criticism over its audacious plans, which threaten to harm local residents by driving up costs, adding traffic and devouring a beloved urban greenspace.
As of January 2020, the plans for the sprawling $500+ million “campus” called for four buildings, including a museum and library, as well as a plaza.
“Obama has said it wouldn’t be his presidential center if there wasn’t a place to play some hoops,” quipped Jorge Casimiro, president of the Nike Foundation and community impact officer, according to BallerAlert.com.
The aim of the recreational space, Casimiro said, was to unify people, fulfilling a promise that Obama’s presidency never quite lived up to.
“It is about the transformative power of sport,” he said. “It is about coming together, about having a space to run around in and have fun and play, but also a space to have meetings.”
However, the latest development is apt to further infuriate environmentalists, who lost a bid last year to block the development from locating in Jackson Park, a public, waterfront refuge bordering Lake Michigan on the city’s South Side near the University of Chicago.
It wouldn’t be the first time Nike had courted controversy.
Much like the company’s most prominent pitchman, anthem-kneeling former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Nike hoped the association with Obama would enable the brand to further penetrate the coveted youth demographic.
“Both foundations believe people, especially young people, can change the world, particularly through sport,” said Casimiro.
The two have previously partnered on Michelle Obama’s 2013 Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative, to which Nike’s philanthropy arm gave $50 million.
Casimiro said that the president—although known to sneak cigarette breaks from the Oval Office—was a poignant figurehead, as iconic as the brand’s famed swoosh logo, for the higher virtues that Nike aspired to represent.
“At the end of the day, it is going to be a symbol to the world and visitors about why this is important,” he continued.
It is unclear whether the Obama Foundation had yet received the air rights for a massive, gold statue of the 44th president that would dwarf the nearby Willis Tower.
“There are a lot of presidential libraries and I think there is a tendency to think of this as a monument to the past, to think of it as something that is backwards-looking … And … a little bit of an ego trip,” he said.
“When Michelle and I started talking about the Presidential Center, we were really firm that what we want to do was create something for the future,” he added.
Sadly, he did not promise that if anyone likes the old greenspace, they can keep the old greenspace.