Wednesday, June 25, 1997
Nike recalls disputed logo
Company apologizes to offended Muslims

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nike shoes
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, shows a pre-production pair of Nike Airs during a news conference April 9. Nike agreed Tuesday to recall the shoes because the "Air" logo resembles the word Allah in Arabic script and offended Muslims.
(AP photo)
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Nike Inc. Tuesday let the other shoe drop in a public affairs snafu festering for three months, agreeing to recall a line of shoes with a logo that a Muslim group found offensive.

The logo, meant to look like flames, resembles the word "Allah" in Arabic script. Shoes bearing the flame have been sold this summer under the names Air Bakin', Air Melt, Air Grill and Air B-Que.

In announcing its first-ever recall, Nike said it will apologize to Muslims and donate a $50,000 playground to an Islamic elementary school in the United States. In exchange, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it will urge Muslims worldwide not to boycott Nike products.

"Many . . . may not understand how offensive it is to have the name of God on a shoe," said Nihad Awad, the Islamic council's executive director. "The shoe gets dirty. It gets muddy. It gets sweaty. We believe this is disrespectful to the name of God."

Dr. Jamal Al-Henaid, director of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester, said he avoided buying Nike shoes after hearing about the new line and hoped that many in the area's 10,000-strong Muslim community would do the same.

Imam Ilyas Nashid, who leads the Cincinnati Islamic Center in Kennedy Heights, said he had not heard about the shoes. "But good for Nike and good for the council for noticing," he said, referring to the episode as "capitalism in its extreme expression."

Several area store owners surveyed likewise said they were unaware of controversy over the shoes and as of midday hadn't been notified of a recall.

In fact, operators from several stores indicated that sales of the shoes weren't so hot anyway.

"Not really that good," said David Hahn, owner of McHahn's Sportswear at Race and Seventh streets.

Roger Leopardi, store manager of the Famous Footwear in Eastgate, said sales have been fair of the only shoe in the lineup that he sells: the Air Grill.

In addition to recalling 38,000 pairs of the offensive shoes, Nike has diverted another 30,000 pairs from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey to "less-sensitive" markets. Roy Agostino, a spokesman for Beaverton, Ore.-based shoemaker, said the shoes, selling for $70 to $130 a pair, will be reworked with the logo obliterated and then reintroduced.

Nike is the second athletic-shoe company to run into trouble with a product logo. In February, Reebok International Ltd. discontinued its Incubus women's shoes after discovering that the name referred to a mythical demon.

Translation problems are nothing new to marketers - especially when it comes to different cultures, lifestyles and, of course, language.

One oft-cited translation problem was Chevrolet's marketing of its Nova automobile in Mexico, when the company came to realize that Nova translated to "doesn't go" in that country.