Nike CEO says the firm has not fully supported Black colleagues, despite sponsorship and ads targeting that demographic.
A video advertisement from Nike Japan against bullying and racism that features biracial athletes and other minorities, such as those of Korean descent, has prompted a sharp online response including calls to boycott the company.
The commercial, Keep Moving: Yourself, the Future, released on November 30, shows several teenage girls bullied in school over their race or other differences, but who ultimately find confidence through their prowess in football.
One scene features a girl whose father is Black surrounded by fellow students, squealing and pulling her hair.
Japan has traditionally prided itself on being racially homogeneous, although successful mixed-race athletes such as tennis star Naomi Osaka are challenging that image.
— Nike Japan (@nikejapan) November 28, 2020
The video, viewed 14.1 million times on Nike Japan’s Twitter feed 04:00 GMT on Wednesday, had racked up nearly 64,000 likes but also a cascade of critical comments from many who promised never to buy Nike products again.
“Nowadays, you often see one or two people of different nationalities going to school perfectly peacefully. The one that’s prejudiced is Nike,” wrote one user named “hira1216”.
Another asked: “Is it so much fun to blame Japan?”
Japanese sports fans have celebrated Osaka, who counts Nike as a sponsor and makes a cameo appearance in the advertisement.
But she was once depicted as a cartoon character by another sponsor, Nissin, with pale skin and light brown hair, while a comedy duo said she “needed some bleach”.
Nike Japan was not immediately able to comment on the response but said on its website it believes in the transformative nature of sports.
“We have long listened to minority voices, supported and spoken for causes that fit our values,” it added.
“We believe sports have the power to show what a better world looks like, to bring people together and encourage action in their respective communities.”