Boris Berian has been the center of attention in track and field since he won the 800M at Payton Jordan Invitational last year with a speedy 1:45.30. Excluding Joe Vigil, his Big Bear Track Club teammates and coaches, Berian caught everyone off guard. No one knew where in the world he came from, and rightly so, considering it had only been months before that he’d been flipping burgers at McDonalds in a Colorado Springs Walmart.
It’s been nothing short of a fairytale story for Boris Berian as he went from been a collegiate dropout to a world champion within just a year of organized training. Now, as we approach the 2016 Rio Olympics he is the heavy USA favorite to have a podium finish. Like any fairytale story, though, there’s an antagonist. Scheming is taking place in the shadows as Boris Berian is being preyed on.
Nike, a multi-billion-dollar shoe company and brand, has decided to set its sights on Boris Berian. The company has reasoned that he poses some type of threat and that he should be brought down and punished. What is the crime? A somewhat ambiguous claim of contract infringement against Berian by Nike. If for some reason the reader is not up to date on the situation, it’s simple: Nike had right of first refusal after their contract with Berian ended on December 31.
What is not so simple is if Nike offered Berian an equal offer to that of New Balance in early 2016. Berian and New Balance obviously claim that Nike had ample opportunity to make a decision, did not make a clearly better offer, which then freed Berian to represent New Balance. With all this going on in the court system, Nike applied for a temporary restraining order. The TRO filed against Berian was approved, and it now prevents him from competing in any non-Nike gear, until the June 21 court date that has been set.
With all this in mind, no matter the technicalities, I’m just left in bewilderment. I’m not sure where Nike benefits in all of this. Even if they win, Berian has already gone to say that he would not accept any contract offered to him by Nike; he would soon rather retire. As someone who has gone from nothing, to Olympic hopeful, he has garnered loads of positive attention. For Nike to then come in and rain on his parade just seems like horrible publicity. It makes them look like the big, bad bully on the playground.
The sport of running is one of the world’s biggest markets, although it is somewhat lagging in the United States. As an international brand one would think that Nike would want to capitalize on the American running market. Potentially removing a gold medal contender from the mix doesn’t seem like quite the right move. Who knows, maybe it’s an attitude of “if we don’t get him, no one does.” Maybe, they’re tired of New Balance moving in on the world of track and have decided to make it clear what they’re willing to do to hold on to their monopoly.
Whatever it might be, let us hope that this doesn’t take away from the spirit of the Olympics. The purpose of the Olympics was never to glorify brands, but show the resolve of individuals working towards lifelong goals. Nothing would bring more shame to the sport than a big name brand holding an athlete back from the pinnacle of his career due to a technicality and simple greed.