IMAGE: basil childers
Since it's not my habit these days to chill with Phil, I can only speculate as to how he spent Sept. 11.
I'm guessing that, like the rest of us, he was glued to the tube for a good chunk of the day, recoiling at the horror. And, like the rest of us, he wondered how he could help those dealing with the destruction 2,500 miles away.
Well, this is where the good Mr. Knight parts company with the rest of us. As CEO of the world's largest athletic-apparel company, he's stocked up on socks. We're not talking about a half-dozen unmatched argyles in the skivvies drawer. No, he's got warehouses full of Nike socks, and he promptly shipped 11,000 pairs to the rescue workers in New York.
Now, Phil's no candidate to succeed Mother Teresa, but it was a damn fine gesture; it certainly trumped the extra $20 for the Red Cross that the Nose tacked on to that Safeway check. And you know, the rest of us might have been content stopping there. But Phil isn't like the rest of us.
As he explained in a Sept. 26 commentary piece, "A tragedy of this nature can kindle the desire to reunite with a distant sibling or friend with whom you've had a dispute."
So what did Phil do? Blow off work to take his kids fishing? Call a long-lost cousin? No. He decided it was time to snuggle up to some Ducks. On Sept. 26, Phil announced that he would open his checkbook and help the University of Oregon spruce up its athletic stadium. It was kind of like calling off a divorce.
You see, 17 months ago Phil had a big falling-out with his alma mater. He's the richest alum in the University of Oregon's history, and he has shelled out an estimated $50 million to the school over the years. A library here. A law center there. More than a dozen professor slots. But his crowning gift was to be a facelift for his beloved Autzen Stadium. That offer, however, was withdrawn in a huff in April 2000, when some student activists pushed the school to join the Worker Rights Consortium, a monitoring group that had alleged Nike exploited contract workers in its overseas factories.
After Phil declared his divorce from the Ducks, U of O president Dave Frohnmayer came down with a bad case of separation anxiety. Duncan McDonald, the assistant who failed to warn Phil of the WRC decision, got pushed back to academia. Dave ditched the WRC and signed the university up with a different monitoring group that Nike supports. He made sure Phil had an invitation to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Now, the rest of us might have mentioned these facts in explaining a decision to kiss and make up. But Phil's not like the rest of us. He said his change of heart was driven by "a more basic emotion."
"I was surprised by the pain of being disconnected from the university," he wrote in his column. "I reached the conclusion that a man without a country is not the only lonely man."
Now, the rest of us might have been uncomfortable using a national tragedy to explain a reconciliation with someone who'd caved in to each of our demands. But like I said before....