Nike faces anti-drug backlash to 'Dope' and 'Get High' shirts

PORTLAND — Nike Inc. is being blasted for replacing its signature "Just Do It" slogan on some T-shirts with the phrases "Dope," "Get High" and "Ride Pipe."

The shoe and athletic apparel company said the terms are part of the lingo used by the skaters, snowboarders and participants in other extreme sports it's trying to target with the shirts. But critics say the slogans endorse drug use.

Boston's mayor has asked Nike to remove a display of the shirts. And an Oregon anti-drug group condemned them in a letter sent to 1,500 people — including some at The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy — urging them to let Nike know they disapprove of the slogans. "It's gone past edgy," said Tom Parker, spokesman for the Oregon Partnership. "Sure it is the language of skateboarders and surfers, but it's also the language of addicts."

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino this week sent a letter to the general manager of a Niketown store in a popular shopping district in Boston after he saw the shirts in the store window.

He asked that they be taken down, saying the company failed to take drug abuse seriously.

"Your window display of T-shirts with drug and profanity wordplay are out of keeping with the character of Boston's Back Bay, our entire city and our aspirations for our young people ... not to mention common sense," Menino said in the letter.

The Nike shirts became available on June 1 in conjunction with the launch of an action sports campaign. The "Dope" shirt shows the image of a pill bottle upended with surfboards and skateboards pouring out. Not all the shirts have controversial terms. Other shirts include the phrases "F Gravity" and "Get Wet."

Nike, based in Beaverton, recently has increased its marketing surrounding extreme sports and said the new shirts promote sports — not illegal drug use.

"Sport is an antidote to drugs," Nike spokeswoman Erin Dobson said in a statement Thursday.

"There is no better adrenalin rush than catching a wave or landing a trick. The language is the same that skaters, BMXer's and surfers use every day around the world."

Skateboarders say references to pot smoking are common in extreme sports. "It's part of the culture," said Mike Hirsch, 45, a skateboarder since the 1970s and owner of the SoCal Skate Ship in Mission Viejo, Calif.

Hirsh doesn't sell Nike products at his store but said he doesn't think the shirts should be pulled because of the terms. "I'm not a big fan of it, but it's part of the street culture and always has been."

New Yorker Paul Roura, a skateboarder for 15 years, called the shirts "corny." "It's not the best image to be putting out there for skateboarders," the 25-year-old said.

Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, agrees. "Apparently, Nike did not consult any of their former sponsored athletes like Marion Jones, to see firsthand the destruction that comes from choosing to use dangerous drugs to cheat in sport," said Tygart, referring to the track star who had her Olympic medals stripped after she admitted to using steroids.

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