Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

So there is no question the America's Cup is one of the most elite sporting races, with teams' captains by likes of billionaire Larry Ellison. But commentator Frank Deford wants you to consider a sporting goods company that has raced ahead, and joined the wealthy elite on Wall Street.

FRANK DEFORD: Yes, after one 117 years, sports has finally made it to the big-time when, starting next Tuesday, an athletic company will be included in the Dow Jones averages. The Dow Jones, of course, has always preferred very serious corporations - your banks, your automotives, your insurers.

OK, the movies were allowed in 1932 with the inclusion of Loew's and Walt Disney was brought on board in 1991. But sports was never considered substantial enough for an industrial average until now, when Nike has been ordained. Yes, Dow Jones has the Swoosh.

Sporting goods has always had some successful companies, dating back to the 1870s when a former baseball pitcher named Albert Spalding started his enterprise, specializing in balls. But sneakers? Imagine the lowly sneaker being a star on Wall Street.

Whereas rubber-soled shoes had been around by the turn of the last century, nobody called them sneakers until Keds chose the name in 1917 because, you see, in your quiet Keds you could sneak around. Really, that was the reason: sneakers.

The Nike creation story itself is, by now, a quasi-religious tale, at least in Oregon, where the company was started by the University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and one of his former runners, Phil Knight. They made their prototype sneaker with a waffle iron, proving in spades that business about the mother of invention. Knight is now one of the 50-or-so richest men in the world - from sneakers.

He gives so much money to his alma mater that they boast to athletic recruits that Oregon is the University of Nike. A monstrous complex built by Knight's money called the Football Performance Center, is to college locker rooms what the Ritz-Carlton is to Motel 6s. Given this luxury, the football team at the University of Nike, which used to be just an also-ran in its conference, is now second in the whole country.

Nike is also famous for its uniforms although, after Henry Ford who is supposed to have said that you could have any color car you wanted so long as it was black, Nike likes its teams to wear black. Because black is a menacing color that is supposed to cow the wimpy opposition in its pretty, old-fashioned school colors. Even the Harvard Crimson now have black uniforms. Nobody messes with the Swoosh, not even Harvard.

Now, Nike does have a proclivity for picking endorsees who run amok in various ways; Lance Armstrong, for example, Oscar Pistorius - uh-oh, Marion Jones, Michael Vick, Joe Paterno, Ben Roethlisberger, Tiger Woods. But bad publicity never seems to slow Nike down. As Dow Jones has shown us now: Don't sell sneakers short.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford races to join us each Wednesday.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford
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