It wasn’t all that long ago that major sports stars shied away from social activism for fear of losing out on lucrative endorsement deals.
Most famously, Michael Jordan once told his teammates “Republicans buy sneakers too” and an entire section of The Last Dance was devoted to whether he was joking.
Contrast that with news that broke on Monday that Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud became the first female basketball player to sign a shoe deal with Converse since the relaunch of its Hoops brand. That should give an indication of how much times have changed both on and off the court.
Following the killing of George Floyd, Cloud penned an article on May 30 for The Players’ Tribune entitled “Your Silence is a Knee on My Neck.” Within her piece, she spoke numerous uncomfortable truths about what it it means for supposed allies and bystanders to refuse to be active in the struggle for civil rights:
“And the only thing I feel like using that platform for right now is to send a message to the so-called ‘neutral’ people out there. It’s to tell them that we’re changing up the definitions of some of these words they’ve been hiding behind.
“It’s to tell them that ‘seeing both sides’ means having blood on their hands—and ‘opting out’ means leaving innocent people to die.
“It’s to tell them that neutrality about black lives might as well be murder.
“It’s to tell them that their silence is the knee on George Floyd’s neck.”
That’s about as far from “Republicans buy sneakers too” as you can get. Because it’s exactly what we needed to hear.
Cloud’s essay quickly went viral as Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and institutionalized racism took to the streets in all 50 states. While her endorsement deal with Converse was already done and its announcement was put on hold as the company acknowledged the infinitely more important events taking place all around the country, the sneaker giant still took notice of her very public contribution to the current wave of activism.
As its announcement made clear, Converse chose to stand behind her. The company released a statement to the media to accompany its announcement and emphasized that Cloud’s voice calling for social change was something the company supported:
“Cloud is known for extending her influence through leadership efforts that place emphasis on being a voice for the voiceless, specifically using her platform to speak out against the racial injustices that are killing Black people in America, while also advocating for equality for women and the LGBTQ+ community and working to guide youth in her communities…
“We look forward to amplifying her voice for the causes she believes in and will keep you updated on our community efforts following our recent commitment.”
To emphasize that commitment to amplification, Converse linked to Cloud’s Players’ Tribune essay from its Instagram account.
Even in these unprecedented times, the historic nature of Cloud’s endorsement deal still made an impact on national newsmakers. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted out her congratulations to the Mystics star and lauded her for continuing to stand for what she believes in:
While numerous corporations are jumping on the social justice bandwagon, it’s important to note that a player with Natasha Cloud’s commitment to speaking up for change should help ensure that this is not just another brand adding a black square to its Insta feed and calling it a day.
Converse General Manager of Global Basketball Ronald Johnson emphasized his company’s bond with Cloud and the social justice causes she represents when he told Outsports, “Natasha’s love for basketball is equaled by her personal vision off the court. She is an advocate for the underrepresented communities she represents. The two go hand-in-hand as they are core to who she is and were a key focus for entering into the partnership. We are incredibly proud to add Natasha to the Converse basketball roster.”
To this point, it had already been a busy year for Cloud. In July 2019, she got engaged to the Chicago Bandits’ Aleshia Ocasio. And later that October, she helped lead the Mystics to their first-ever WNBA championship.
But as Cloud’s essay and her endorsement deal indicate, her real work has now just begun.