In 1997 life was pretty good for Jim Keady. He was getting a master’s in theology at St. John’s University, working as an assistant coach for the Redstorm’s top-ranked men’s soccer team, and playing the game himself at the minor league level. Then, in 1998 he said “no” to Nike and everything changed.
“I was the first coach to say ‘no’ to Nike because of the sweatshop issue,” said Keady, who will talk about his 15-year fight for social justice and workers’ rights Monday night at 7 p.m. at Schenectady County Community College. “I thought, ‘this isn’t a company we should be promoting,’ but I was given an ultimatum. Wear Nike and drop the issue or get out.”
Keady got out but he hasn’t yet gone away as far as Nike is concerned. He is founder and director of Educating for Justice, an Asbury, N.J.-based nonprofit with the mission to educate and organize citizens to promote peace in the world. Much of his work has focused on improving living and working conditions for factory workers in third world countries, and his “Team Sweat” campaign is aimed directly at Nike.
‘Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice’
WHAT: A presentation by Jim Keady
WHERE: Stockade Building, Room 101, Schenectady County Community College
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday
MORE INFO: 381-1250 or www.sunysccc.edu
“I started going to college and speaking about these issues, and my critics would say how these were great jobs for those poor people,” said Keady, whose talk is entitled “Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice.”
“I knew they were wrong, and I wanted to prove them wrong. So, in the summer of 2000 I went to Indonesia and lived with the factory workers for a month. I stayed in a little village and just tried to survive on their wages, $1.25 a day. I lost 25 pounds.”
Keady grew up in Belmar Park, N.J., and went to St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia where he majored in psychology and played on the men’s soccer team. His master’s in theology at St. John’s was prepping him for a teaching career at the high school or college level, but while working on a research paper his life took a turn.
“In light of my Catholic social teaching, I just by chance started working on a paper about Nike and sweatshops,” remembered Keady, whose work has been featured on ESPN, HBO and several other national networks as well as in The New York Times. “What I found was that if you wanted to pick a company that violated everything a Catholic school should stand for, Nike would be the perfect case study. At the same time I’m doing that, St. John’s begins negotiating with the company for a $3.5 million contract. I tried to negotiate myself out of the deal but I couldn’t.”
Keady was forced to resign in 1998, and since that time has made numerous trips to Indonesia.
“After my first trip I promised the people I met, men and women, that I would go back home and do what I could for them,” said Keady. “I’ve been doing this full time for 13 years now, and I was just there in January when we won a case for the workers against Nike. Nike has 40 factories and 171,000 workers in Indonesia. The country is Nike’s third largest producer behind Vietnam and China.”
The argument suggesting Nike is providing work for people who would otherwise be employed does not resonate with Keady.
“Nike’s not there to do charity work,” he said. “Indonesia is a nation with wonderful people and a long history and culture. They were providing for themselves long before some white guys from Beaverton, Ore., came and saved them. They would figure out a way to feed themselves if Nike wasn’t there.”
Despite some degree of success fighting Nike, Keady concedes that he often feels like a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
“I have days like that, and when I do I think about the people who are my heroes,” he said. “Gandhi, Martin Luther King, [Catholic reformer] Dorothy Day and Jesus Christ. I recognize that I’m not the master builder. I want the world to be fair and just, but I’m just another worker trying to add a few more bricks to the wall.”
Keady says he’s never regretted his decision to turn his back on Nike and St. John’s.
“I am Catholic, but I’m not shackled to my faith,” he said. “There are a lot of things about the Catholic church I don’t agree with, but my faith informs the work that I’ve done. I was playing minor league ball, I had aspirations to coach at a division one or even professional level, and then I said ‘no’ to Nike. I don’t regret anything, and I’ll talk about that in Schenectady on Monday night. I’ll address all these issues and give concrete examples of what students and parents can do to help my campaign, ‘Team Sweat,’ and then I’ll open the floor for questions.”
Keady’s presentation is sponsored by SCCC Student Government Association and Community and Cultural Events Committee.