Phil Knight on Tiger Woods: A “Minor Blip” or a Major Blunder?

Economist Milton Friedman once famously said, “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

For years, Nike’s Phil Knight appeared to be a disciple of the same philosophy. But that began to change in the late 1990s, in part because of the fallout from Knight’s ill-advised and cringe-inducing interview with Michael Moore for the movie “The Big One” (see video above).

Today, Nike still faces its share of critics. But the company is genuinely committed to corporate responsibility and, using its own words, “to creating meaningful change.”

That’s why Nike should live up to that commitment by issuing a formal statement about its relationship with Tiger Woods—a relationship that runs far deeper than a mere product endorsement.

To date, only Knight has spoken up, calling Tiger’s repulsive behavior a “minor blip” and explaining that such miscues by Nike athletes were “part of the game.” Hey, give the guy a mulligan.

For a company like Nike that promotes to “every athlete in the world”—including women, children and families—I can’t think of anything worse for Phil to have said.

If it truly is a values-based company, Nike needs to correct Knight’s blunder, as it did in the 1990s, and enforce a code of ethics for its athletes that is consistent with the values it promotes.