Money Talks When Holding Brands Accountable

In the midst of the pandemic and nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd, brands took notice.

For example, Nike announced a four-year $40 million dollar commitment to support organizations focused on social justice.

While these outward displays of support are important, the moves are also good for business. According to a 2019 Nielsen Report, Black buying power commands $1.3 trillion annually. If 2020 has been an awakening for White America and brands, it’s been that for Black Americans as they acknowledge their collective power.

According to a recent survey by Edelman, 60% of Americans believe brands must take a stand and speak out against racism. But believing a brand should do something, and holding them accountable, are two entirely different concepts.

Nike, a brand whose ads are always progressive and endorse phenomenal athletes like Serena Williams and LeBron James, really has little choice if its messaging is sincere, but still has room to grow. A now-deleted Instagram account called “Black at Nike” included stories from black employees about their experiences with racism at the company.



A month later, the sportswear giant promoted Felicia Mayo, a black woman and former Tesla executive, to chief talent, diversity and culture officer. The move came after CEO John Donahoe told employees in a June memo that the brand has not lived up to its inclusive ideals internally.

It’s time for more companies to make moves like this.

What does your staff actually look like? Who has a seat at the decision-making table in your company? How deep and sincere is your commitment to diversity? Or are you tapping into Black culture and issues only to get a piece of that 1.3 trillion-dollar pie?

This is why what the NBA and WNBA are doing is especially powerful. The leagues don’t ignore that their product is largely created by Black people directly affected by the issues at the forefront of 2020.

While the country is just now waking up to horrors of systemic racism and police misconduct gone unchecked, Black people have been living that nightmare for centuries. Those respective athletes put their jerseys on for the duration of a game and take them off. Most of them never take off their black skin.

WNBA players are consistent leaders in spotlighting social injustices. This year, the WNBA’s collective decision to dedicate the season to Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old paramedic killed in her Louisville home by police executing a no-knock warrant, and partner with the #SayHerName Campaign, is unprecedented.

Natasha Cloud, a WNBA reigning champion and guard for the Washington Mystics, told me recently that a win for the 2020 WNBA season would be when the killers of Breonna Taylor are arrested.

The NBA, whose teams generated $8.8 billion in revenue in 2019, returned to action at a single-site location at the end of July. The league empowers players to be vocal on the issues that matter to them. Players have also asked the league to look at its own front offices, coaching staffs, and pipelines for opportunity.

How is it that a league made up of 75% Black players rarely sees people who look like them making decisions? Kneeling collectively and playing on courts that say Black Lives Matter is literally just the tip of the iceberg. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Jaylen Brown, and so many others are doing tangible work in their communities on a range of issues from voting, education reform, and access to water — because yes, even access to water is informed by race.

Just before the NBA returned, LeBron James voiced his dislike for the term “movement” referring to Black Lives Matter, saying that  for him, being Black is every day, all day.

The pressure on brands is not a moment or movement. It’s a mandate for which consumers should hold them accountable.

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