HIGHTOWER: The Explosive Tongue Behind Nike

There's a political metaphor that goes: Never bother murdering a man who's busy committing suicide.

Rhetorically speaking, Phil Knight is killing himself. He's the head honcho at Nike Inc., which is a notorious exploiter of sweatshop labor, and Phil is constantly shooting off his mouth in defense of this ugly fact, rather than simply cleaning up his corporate act. Lately, he's taken to assailing university officials who dare to cross him on this explosive issue.

It's been little reported by the establishment media, but there's recently been a firestorm of student outrage and action across the country against the use of sweatshop labor to make clothing and other goods bearing their university logos. Led by United Students Against Sweatshops, some 50 campuses have joined the Workers Rights Consortium -- a tough, effective group that monitors labor practices at apparel factories around the world, making sure no sweatshop labor is used.

This has ticked-off Phil, who particularly objects to the Consortium's use of surprise visits to his Asian factories -- "gotcha" tactics, he labels them, apparently preferring advance notice so supervisors can tidy things up before inspectors arrive. So piqued is Phil that he withdrew a $30 million contribution to build luxury skyboxes at the football stadium of his alma mater, the University of Oregon. The U of O's transgression? It had joined the Workers Rights Consortium.

Knight even lashed out at one of his company's biggest customers, the University of Michigan, because it, too, joined the consortium to stop sweatshop labor. Nike had a sweet deal at Michigan, but Knight left the campus in a huff saying he would not seek to renew his exclusive contract there.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... Knight's ego bursts simply draw more attention to the fact that Nike profiteers from sweatshop labor. He needs to hire a PR aide whose job is to do nothing but say, "Oh, Phil, shut up."

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