Monday, April 15, 2013

Nike Offends the Irish Community with “Black and Tan” Shoe (2012)

Since its creation in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, Nike has turned from a lowly shoe company created by two men with $500 apiece, into the top sports apparel company in the world. Originally called Blue Ribbon Sports, the name was later changed to Nike in 1971. Over the last few decades Nike has steadily grown into one of the strongest companies in the world, and been one of the best success stories in the United States. Nike is known for its top of the line gear, their innovation, and the high profile athletes they endorse to wear and market their products. One can hardly go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a Nike product or seeing a Nike advertisement. Even though they are successful, Nike has run into its fair share of controversies.
In March of 2012, Nike started releasing the Nike SB Dunk Low. Due to its color scheme the nickname “Black and Tan” was soon adopted. This nickname was being used all across the country, and a lot of online shoe companies advertised the shoe as the Black and Tan. The most common connotation of black and tan, as described by is, “the alcohol drink made by mixing stout and lager – usually Guinness and Bass or Harp – in a pint glass” ( However, this phrase has a much different meaning to Irish people and those who live in Ireland. The drink itself takes its name from, “a British paramilitary unit deployed to Ireland in the 1920’s to suppress an armed revolution against Britain rule. The group became notorious for their numerous attacks on the Irish civilian population” ( This caused outrage amongst the people of Ireland and those who are Irish and live in the United States. It was a very big mistake on Nike’s part that could have easily been avoided as simply as typing in the phrase “Black and Tan” to any search engine. Even though Nike claimed they had no part in the nickname, as explains, it had been, “unofficially called the Black and Tan…Yet, there is in image of a pint of beer with two colors, black and tan, inside the shoe” ( This caused even more controversy as there was clear evidence Nike was trying to link their shoe with the black and tan drink. The main reason for linking this shoe to the drink was because the shoe was released just before Saint Patrick's Day, a holiday often celebrated through beer. Nike was then caught in a lie, and it damaged the name and trustworthiness of the company.
After analyzing this case under the four normative ethical theories, Nike was found to have been unethical in this case under Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Theory. However, Nike was ethical based on Individualist ethics. To quickly summarize, Individualism is running a business with the main goal of the company being to earn as much money as possible as long as it is legal. In this case, Nike’s actions were completely legal, and they were just trying to sell as many shoes as possible. They did not lose much if any money, as no reported lawsuits were filed. The only part of this case that could have led to losing money was: having to discontinue the shoe. Yet there were not any reported drops in earnings that were linked to discontinuing this shoe. Continuing on, Nike did violate the other three theories. Utilitarianism is basically maximizing happiness in all beings capable of feeling it. Nike was clearly unethical because this controversy caused many people to be unhappy. With Utilitarianism, happiness is most important because it is a basic desire, and Utilitarians believe that is a good enough justification. People were unhappy because of the alternative meaning of the name, so Nike was unethical.
Kantianism mainly focuses on respecting their customers and acting out of good will. When Nike lied about connecting their shoe with the black and tan nickname, they violated the Kantian ethical perspective. Lying is very disrespectful and Nike lied to their customers, and those who were outraged by the incident. Finally, virtue theory is based on four virtues: courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. Nike violated the honesty and justice virtue. Justice is recognized by, “hard work, good products, sound ideas, and fair practices” (Salazar). Nike did not have a good idea by trying to link this shoe to the black and tan drink. It caused the black and tan nickname to be the main name that identified the shoe, and the controversy it started was not ethical by the justice virtue. Honesty is treating all stakeholders properly. Again, stakeholders, especially the customers of the company and in this case, the Irish community, were not treated properly because of the horrific meaning of what black and tan represented in Ireland during the 1920’s. Overall, Nike was unethical by three of the four normative theories. This was a stupid blunder on Nike’s part because this whole mess could have been avoided easily. To put this case into a different perspective, fictionally speaking, Nike nicknaming their shoe “Black and Tan,” would be as if an Irish shoe company nicknamed their shoe, “The Al-Qaeda.” That is how offensive the shoe name was. Nike should install background checks on all shoe names, color combinations, and possible nicknames so they can avoid a situation like this again.
A photograph of the Black and Tan Nike shoes

Work Cited

Hanrahan, Mark. "Nike Black And Tan: Footwear Giant Courts Controversy Naming Shoe After Force That Killed Irish Civilians." The Huffington Post., 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2013.

"History & Heritage." NIKE, Inc. -. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Nike Apologizes for Unofficial Name of 'Black and Tan' Sneaker." Fox News. FOX News Network, 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Nike Kicks Up Controversy with 'Black and Tan' Shoes." N.p., 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2013.

Salazar, Heather. Business Ethics and Virtue. N.p., Spring 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2013.

Images used in this blog were copied from


  1. Great story Marcus. My view varies on this. Although i am of Irish decent. It is obvious that Nike did not mean to have it be be connected with the British group that killed many innocent civilians. But on the other hand. Having named a shoe after an alcoholic drink, is in bad taste. Then to lie about it when there is a picture of black and tan on the inside of the shoe. Thanks for such an informative piece.

  2. This is a very well written and informative piece. I have never heard of the Black and Tan shoes but have heard of the acts upon the people of Irish decent from the 1920's so I can understand why they would be upset especially after being lied to. A company as large and well known as Nike definately should know better than to try to deceive it's customers. That is just a bad business practice and they are lucky it didn't cause more problems for them than it did.. great work!!