Teen With Cerebral Palsy Inspires Nike to Design Zip-Around Sneakers for the Disabled

From: GEOFF WEISS / ENTREPRENEUR STAFF

With its latest sneaker launch, Nike is once again tapping into its pioneering design pipeline and appealing to the human aspects of athleticism — a branding strategy that has helped make it the most beloved sportswear brand on the planet.

When the company’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, had a stroke and lost functionality on the right side of his body in 2004, CEO Mark Parker initially began brainstorming about a laceless shoe for easier entry and exit.

After the idea was set into motion, Nike received a letter on social media in 2012 from Matthew Walzer — a then-16-year-old Florida high school student with cerebral palsy. “Cerebral palsy stiffens the muscles in the body,” Walzer wrote. “As a result I have flexibility in only one of my hands, which makes it impossible for me to tie my shoes.”

I started thinking about doors on a hinge,” said Nike design guru Tobie Hatfield of his approach to designing what would ultimately become the Nike Flyease — a basketball shoe constructed with a zipper around its ankle that can peel away for easier access.

After sending Walzer a prototype in 2012, Hatfield continued to work directly with Walzer to perfect the design, knowing that such a shoe could be helpful to untold masses. And now, Nike is selling the finished product on its website, the $130 Lebron Zoom Soldier VIII Flyease.

What’s more entrepreneurial than tackling a pervasive, unsolved problem through innovative design? “When we say, ‘If you have a body, you’re an athlete,’” Hatfield said, referring to Nike founder Bill Bowerman’s famous quote, “that means everybody.”

Related: This Program Wants to Help People With Disabilities Become Entrepreneurs

NCAA Should ‘Bolster And Reinforce’ African-American Players

NCAA Should ‘Bolster And Reinforce’ African-American Players

“And this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.” — President Obama

Jaimie D. Travis/iStockphoto.com

By Frank Deford – NPR

While sport is certainly not a primary issue in this matter, it is indisputably true that it plays a significant role in the choices and ultimately the adult lives of many African-American boys.

Because so many blacks are so visibly successful in athletics, while African-American males are not commensurately prominent in other areas, there is no question that a disproportionate number of black boys are more entranced by sports –– especially basketball and football –– and, even, are seduced into concentrating their bodies on the field rather than their minds in the classroom. Coaches and teachers are all too familiar with the sad tales of young black kids with only ordinary athletic talent who are convinced they’ll be the next LeBron James –– and give up serious preparation for life in futile pursuit of that fantasy.

The president speaks of “negative reinforcement.” It may be contradictory to consider a gift as a negative, but while the college athletic scholarship obviously is a bounty for a relatively few black athletes, it also serves as a lure for many, many more. What a distortion of support it is when, as a University of Pennsylvania study shows, 64 percent of basketball players and 57 percent of football players in the six powerhouse American college conferences are black, while, in those same schools, fewer than 3 percent of the whole student bodies are African-American.

Indeed, the way it works is that most black athletes are shamelessly exploited by our colleges. The general model is that football and basketball are the so-called revenue sports that pay the bills for whole athletic departments. The players –– so many of them African-American and often impoverished –– do not, of course, share in the revenue they have earned. Instead, the money made by the football and basketball teams funds the scholarships of athletes and the salaries of coaches in other sports. And, of course, most of those beneficiaries are white.

The NCAA is now seriously threatened by lawsuits that would jeopardize its enforced amateurism. The other day, its chief counsel, one Donald Remy, whined that the plaintiffs “now want to make this about professionalizing a few current student-athletes to the detriment of all others. Their scheme … threatens college sports as we know it.”

You bet: threatens the dear old NCAA scheme where it is mostly the black athletes who pay the freight for others. The model is broken and unfair and rife with prejudice, but college presidents continue to shamelessly endorse it.

How do we “bolster and reinforce African-American boys”? Well, if our educational system would only care a little more about encouraging good black students instead of using good black athletes, it would be a start.

Gay Athlete in the NBA? Yea…It’s a BIG Deal!

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I’m not really into sports. By birth I’m a Cardinal’s fan. St. Louis bequeaths that to anyone born within a twenty-mile radius of Busch Stadium. Growing up, I played soccer and tennis, and was a better-than-average baseball player. So much so, I tried out for the Cardinals when I was 17. I’m a writer today, so that tells you just how well that whole “baseball thing” turned out for me.

The fact I don’t play fantasy sports, or lose my mind when my team doesn’t win, doesn’t mean I’m bitter about not having played in the major leagues. I’m more than alright with having never stared down a 90 mph fastball. Life moves fast enough for me these days. I do find occasional enjoyment in sports. Mostly, it’s by reading about the abysmal performances of over-paid athletes. Athletes, who promise a salivating fan-base their intentions are always driven by “love of the game” as opposed to monetary gain. Tiger falling apart on the back-nine will keep me glued to an otherwise stodgy game of golf. And I always feel a bit of satisfaction when I see how poorly Albert Pujols is performing in an Angel’s uniform. I’ve never met Mr. Pujols. I hear he’s a nice guy. But since he left St. Louis for the west coast, as a Cardinal’s fan, I think I’m supposed to dislike him. Maybe just a little bit.

Even with my lack of athletic knowledge, I recognize when a sports figure lands on the front page of the news cycle something important just happened. More often than not, the player in question just died in a tragic accident, or signed another contract that would double the GDP of most countries. But a few weeks ago a sports figure caused some “breaking news” and it had nothing to do with money or police involvement. The story was about a basketball player who decided to come out as a gay man.

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” writes Jason Collins in an article for Sports Illustrated. And with those words, Collins shook up the world of sports and popular culture. That admission makes him the first male athlete in the history of American sports to come out while still being an active player. And while many wondered why this was even news…I wondered why it took so long. 

I think the answer can be found in some of the backlash Collins has received.

Chris Broussard, an ESPN analyst from Outside the Lines was outside the lines of sanity after telling an interviewer Collins can’t be a “real Christian” because of his sexual orientation. To Broussard’s credit, he recently wrote that the NBA is “ready” for the first out player. But in that same essay, he said he’d be, “a little uncomfortable” to shower with a gay teammate.

A guy from Nebraska, on an NPR call-in show, brought up the issue of gay athletes in the shower, too. Claiming he, “wouldn’t feel comfortable showering next to a gay man, either.”

Why is it when a straight person talks about a gay athlete the conversation always comes back to the shower? And why is it they always assume that person would look at them? A little optimistic, I’d say. Couldn’t they just be looking for the shampoo?

Leroy Butler, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, tweeted four little words, “Congrats to Jason Collins.” And that Tweet cost him an $8,500 speaking engagement at a Wisconsin church. The church, telling him he was in violation of the “moral clause” in their contract.

While some may vilify Jason Collins for his coming out. I welcome it. And as a straight man, I have no problem welcoming it with open arms. Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe did. He’s been an outspoken proponent of gay rights for sometime now. Kobe Bryant supported Jason Collins. So did Bill Clinton and President Obama.

But cyberspace and the locker room are two very different places. Jason Collins knows this. He also knows that silence is a holdout against progress. Minorities have always had to fight for equality. Women’s suffrage and Civil Rights. But we have a black president now. And women can not only vote, they continue to shatter glass ceilings while stomping on the shards. And we are all better off because of it.

Don’t like any of this? That’s ok. There’s a bubble you can escape to to shield yourself from the uncomfortable prejudice that justifies your existence. It’s called your home. But I have to warn you, gay people are everywhere. It’s not just fashion designers and Hollywood actors.  It’s everyday people in every sector of our population.  Maybe…just maybe…there might be one living next door to you.  But don’t worry.  They have their own showers.  

I read…it MUST have been in a GOP publication of some kind…that homosexuals not only have suggestive mind control over heterosexuals in warm shower water, they also produce a highly sophisticated telekinetic hypnotic power that changes ones musical tastes. That’s how they get you, you know. They start with Cher – harmless and innocent. Then it’s on to the Village People and Barry Manilow. Once you’ve memorized the moves to YMCA and the lyrics to Oh, Mandy, there’s no turning back. You may as well just get that mani-pedi, curl up in a papasan with a good book, and learn to knit.

So was it justifiable for the media to have lavished such attention on Jason Collins for merely being gay? Yes. Absolutely. Why? Because this story goes beyond the basketball court. Being the first male athlete to come out as a gay man isn’t something that should be relegated to a Trivial Pursuit question. It’s a big, damn deal. Because somewhere, in some town, there’s some kid who’s not only gay, but has more athletic talent than I ever had. And he’s watching what’s happening with all of this. Wondering if the proponents are right…that is does, really get better. I may not know much about sports. But I do know Jason Collins is saying to that kid – and others like him – that it does. And that just saved some lives.

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