Sports Sponsorships and Morality

A storefront with the Nike logo.

I don’t know how much I’ve shared this on my blog, but one of the sports I follow closely is NASCAR. Yes, the same NASCAR that for the longest time has been stereotyped as a racist southern sport…and backed up those stereotypes with all of the Confederate flags that fans were able to have in the infields of racetracks. It’s also the same NASCAR that made national news when it announced a long-overdue decision not to allow said flags at NASCAR events.

While NASCAR got positive attention for this, it also ended up in a bit of controversy when news broke that one of its teams was going to have “Trump 2020” on the car for a number of races—something that happened because the Patriots of America PAC (a political action committee supporting President Donald Trump) paid $350,000 to said race team to have “Trump 2020” on the car.[1] I’m sure some Trump supporters were happy to see their candidate’s name on the car (though maybe less so upon finding out that said car has spent most of the season below 25th place in points[2]), but many have pointed out the hypocrisy of advocating for a Confederate flag ban while allowing pro-Trump sponsorship at the races. And frankly, given some of the comments that President Trump has made about matters such as the Confederate flag, Confederate statues, and Black Lives Matter, I can see why someone would think that NASCAR is being hypocritical.

However, I think the debate over “Trump 2020” on a sub-25th place car should expand beyond even whether said sponsor is moral or should be allowed. Namely, we need to have a larger conversation about sports sponsorships and morality—a conversation we don’t have often for whatever reason—because there are quite a few sponsors throughout sports that are morally questionable. And if you think I’m being overly sensitive, consider this breakdown of sponsorships and morals (or lack thereof) in a number of top sports:

  • Mars: They sponsor the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch.[3] They also have a long-standing reputation of producing chocolate with child labor.[4]
  • Nike: They are the official supplier of NFL, NBA, and MLB uniforms.[5] They’ve had a history of using sweatshops to produce their apparel and are now linked to the use of forced labor.[6]
  • Caesars Entertainment: The NFL has an official casino sponsor in Caesars Entertainment.[7] Gambling is also an addiction that can and has ruined people’s lives.
  • Adidas: Adidas has a $700 million deal with Major League Soccer,[8] and they are also linked to accusations of forced labor.[9] Like Nike, Adidas has a history of sweatshop use.
  • Red Bull: They’re everywhere. They sponsor numerous soccer/football teams, a Formula One team, and more. Energy drinks can also be harmful for one’s body.[10]

This is not an exhaustive list of sponsors with morals that are questionable, but these are some of the major ones. Still, this short list should give people a sense of how reliant so many major sports are on sponsors such as these. This list shows that it’s an issue much bigger than “Trump 2020” on a race car. It’s also an issue that seems to get ignored in the debates over whether “Trump 2020” should be on a race car to begin with, even though it would be beneficial to include the Trump car in a larger debate on where to draw the line with sports sponsorships and morals.

As to how to tackle this issue with sports and sponsors with questionable morals, I’m not sure. There most certainly is a line that many major sports have drawn with sponsors—otherwise we might still be talking about the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.[11] But as to where exactly that line is drawn, it’s something that needs to really be discussed at-length, because while I wish there wasn’t the need for any of these morally questionable sponsors to begin with, I also realize that if not for the existence of these sponsors, many people would be out of their jobs, out of their livelihoods.

What do you, the reader, think of sports sponsorships and morality? Where do you think the line should be drawn? At which point do you believe a sponsor is morally questionable enough that it should not be allowed in by a sport? You need not be a sports fan to comment below!


[1] https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/breaking/ct-nascar-political-paint-schemes-20200704-pwofhks3nbdtfhskcr4ebsnrea-story.html

[2] https://www.racing-reference.info/drivdet/lajoico01/2020/W

[3] https://www.mms.com/en-us/experience-mms/nascar

[4] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/01/23/slavery-and-chocolate-some-not-so-sweet-truths/

[5] https://money.cnn.com/2018/03/27/news/companies/nike-nfl-gear-contract/index.html

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/siminamistreanu/2020/03/02/study-links-nike-adidas-and-apple-to-forced-uighur-labor/#41332b191003

[7] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2019/01/03/nfl-caesars-sign-casino-sponsor-deal-minus-sports-betting/38836737/

[8] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mls/2017/08/02/mls-gets-record-sponsorship-deal-adidas/534865001/

[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/siminamistreanu/2020/03/02/study-links-nike-adidas-and-apple-to-forced-uighur-labor/#2c0f8bb61003

[10] The National Institutes of Health in the United States has a whole page breaking down the health impacts of energy drinks on one’s body, particularly those of teenagers and young adults: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/energy-drinks

[11] Winston, a brand of cigarettes, sponsored the top level of NASCAR for over three decades. Some of my earliest memories as a NASCAR fan come from when the top level was called the Winston Cup Series. The concerns over a cigarette brand sponsoring the series was why NASCAR changed title sponsors: https://www.foxsports.com/nascar/gallery/nascar-premier-series-names-through-the-years-120216

12 Replies to “Sports Sponsorships and Morality”

  1. I’m not all that familiar with PACs, but they sounds like just a way of circumventing campaign finance laws. If political parties can’t sponsor sports, PACs shouldn’t be able to either.

    In terms of morality, the question then becomes who is it who’s judging morality? Sports leagues? Governments? Fans who are prepared to stop supporting the league because of sponsorship choices? I think ultimately, if fans were to start voting en masse with their wallets, that would be the most powerful incentive for change.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Campaign finance laws? What campaign finance laws? Campaign finance laws are not as robust as they should be in large part thanks to a Supreme Court decision striking down a major piece of campaign finance law years ago (the Citizens United decision in 2010).

      In the case of NASCAR I brought up (the Trump 2020 car), I think some fans were urging NASCAR to judge morality in a way that didn’t allow the Trump 2020 sponsor. But unless it’s something like cigarettes (where government has judged morality, I’m pretty sure), then it’s at the discretion of the sports leagues, as well as fans who can decide whether a sports league’s (or sports team’s) association with a particular sponsor is just too problematic.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. It somewhat depends on what you mean for sports to get political. To many, BLM is political. The issue of the Confederate flag is political. And obviously, so is Trump 2020 on a car. So even if we say that a sport shouldn’t be allowed to get political, there’s the question of where to draw the line in terms of politics.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess sponsorship is a necessary evil but I will tell you that while watching basketball and seeing corporate sponsors on their uniforms was jarring the first time. I realize that Underarmour and Nike etc always had their logo on uniforms I felt it was different because they manufactured the clothing. I personally look into companies that I purchase from and if I find that they do not fit with my values I go elsewhere, not everyone does that though. Corporate sponsors finally got the Washington football team to agree to a name and logo change, it is all about the almighty dollar.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hmmm. Sponsorships on uniforms are actually not that jarring to me, but I guess that’s because I watch a lot of soccer/football, where you have sponsors featured on the kits of all the teams. But regardless, voting with your dollars is I think important.

      Yeah, I heard about the situation in Washington. FedEx (who has naming rights to the stadium) and others got “the team in Washington” to change their name.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There are non-pro teams that need sponsorships to survive and athletes who need ad deals to make ends meet, and it seems that fan pressure should be enough to control the choices but I know it isn’t. Fan boycott would be and what better time to put pressure on teams sponsored by teams that have unethical labor practices than Labor Day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm… interesting thoughts Maren.

      A boycott could work, but I feel it’s something you’d need en masse for it to be effective. If it were a boycott of a few hundred people when there are 80,000 fans who attend a football game, for hypothetical same, it’s probably not even a blip for a team.

      Like

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