Athletic Companies Are At War, and Our Children Are Caught in the Crossfire

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

There is a legal battle going on that is drawing a few headlines, but no major coverage. After all, it doesn’t involve Donald Trump or anything political, so this particular story has no major appeal on the networks.

However, it is one that has a way bigger impact on us than any legal fight between Donald Trump and a porn star or political battle between Democrats and Republicans.

On Wednesday, Sketchers filed a lawsuit in federal court against Adidas (fun fact: in the legal filing, “adidas” is, in fact, all lowercase, but that looks super weird to me), claiming that the German athleticwear company essentially locked them out of the market by steering top athletes to certain colleges that they sponsored.

This all stems from a recent FBI investigation into corruption and the bribery of college basketball coaches by Adidas, Nike, and other companies, who do take part in the practice. The investigation cost Louisville coach Rick Pitino his job and has left an ugly stain on college basketball.

I am no lawyer, and I don’t pretend to be, but I think Sketchers doesn’t have much of a case for two reasons. For one thing, I don’t think they can really prove they were locked out of the market. Sketchers, unlike Adidas, is not synonymous with athleticwear. Hell, when I think “Sketchers,” I think of light-up shoe commercials from the 90s and early 2000s.

The other reason why is because it looks like the lawsuit is more retaliation for losing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where they stood accused of copying a popular Adidas shoe and were forced to stop selling it.

However, there is some merit to the claim that Adidas, along these other companies, is guilty of putting their profits over high school kids, and I think it’s a discussion we should have on the national level.

Adidas, Nike, Under Armour, and other companies like them sponsor Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams. These are teams of young men and women who play amateur sports, competing locally and nationally against others in their age group. The concept of AAU started in the last 1800s, but in the last decade or so, it’s really become the central focus of kids who grow up playing basketball and have dreams of playing on the same level of LeBron James, Steph Curry, and other NBA stars.

The problem of late has been where the focus really lies in AAU basketball. Many teams don’t seem coached so much as players are encouraged to go out and score as much as possible in order to draw the best looks from college scouts. The better players end up babied and coddled, and a lot of them struggle with the concept of being coached at the high school level.

When these athleticwear companies are involved, these kids can get promised the world, steered toward major colleges, and eventually can get sponsorships if they’re good enough to play on the professional stage. However, the number of kids who successfully get a chance to play at the college level is low, and the kids who successfully go from college to the pros is even lower.

However, because many of these kids are really forced to go to one college or another based on which AAU team they play for, it takes away the focus from where it really should be in high school and college, which is academics.

The cost of admission to play at the level these companies want you to play at, then, is your education.

It’s a problem, and it has the potential to be ruinous to young men who focus too much on the sport and not enough on their lives. If it doesn’t work out, what are they left with as far as job prospects and a future? Not much.

In full disclosure, I coach basketball, and am lucky enough to work with some pretty talented young men. As someone who assists with a high school team, in the off-season and during summer play, it can be tough to compete with an AAU team, because while we focus on team strategy and building camaraderie, at times AAU teams can help ensure that the focus is on a kid as a player, and not the kid as a teammate.

But, I am also a teacher, and I care deeply about these kids’ education prospects. If you have a kid convinced that he’s the Next Big Thing, then he’s not going to care about turning in all those assignments in an English class. He can scrape by just enough to get recruited to a college, play ball there, but he can easily become academically ineligible – or worse, passed through because he’s a star, which means he’s just one major injury away from being jobless and in dire straights.

So, while Sketchers may not have much of a case, we should still pay attention to Adidas and other companies and what they are doing for themselves at the potential expense of our children.