Revealing new football uniforms that are almost-but-not-quite the same as the old uniforms just screams mundane PR event. But Nike doesn’t do mundane, and, at this point, what it does can’t even really be called PR. Nike is an organism. Nike took over a studio building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that shares lot space with Boardwalk Empire and the new Spiderman (or so one of the caterers told me), and turned it into an shrine to football and, most of all, to Nike. Handlers built excitement by leading us through black-curtained tunnels and into a theater with a floor designed to look like a football field. Spokesmen stood in front of a massive video screen, which alternated between clips of football and Nike/NFL propaganda. It was loud. And though what I heard most from onlookers was, “This is so weird,” everyone stared at the proceedings, confused and anticipatory and trying to figure out how to present this to their audiences. NFL Commissioner/tyrant of football Roger Goodell was there; he and Nike’s rep spoke as equals. Couched in the whole façade of Nike announcing a new product for the NFL, we all understood: Nike had complete control.
Then the players came out. There were 30 of them, and famous ones: Mike Vick, Larry Fitzgerald, Ben Roethlisberger, Victor Cruz, Wes Welker. They stood in formation like dancers, modeling the uniforms, performing for the crowd just by standing there; it looked incredibly cool, aesthetically, and at the same time it was a sheer show of force. Who else could call in all these favors? After the main event, the players left, and we had a half-hour or so until the interviews, which were split into two sessions in two different locales. Hmm: which group of NFL All-Stars should I talk to? Vick or Roethlisberger? Brian Orakpo or Ray Rice? It was a decision with no wrong answer.
Welker talked about how excited he was that defenders wouldn’t be able to pull his sleeves anymore, and Roethlisberger said the same about his neck. Some reporters tortured Welker over Tim Tebow, a player that as a wide receiver, he will never play against; they asked Jet Shonn Greene what the offense will be like now that Tebow is the starter, and Greene had to explain that Tebow isn’t the starter. Ray Rice said something about how he respects every running back in the league but that, if you put his stats from the last three years next to anyone else’s, there’s no comparison; he’s the best. LeGarrette Blount and another writer and I discussed rap music—he really likes 2 Chainz, and we’re both eagerly awaiting the new Waka Flocka Flame album. I asked as many players as I could about who’s the best-dressed NFL dude. Opinions differed.
Meanwhile, the players stood and sat in the uniforms, posing for pictures. They pitched Nike’s product. Victor Cruz salsa-danced. It was all very surreal and enjoyable, and everyone, the players and the journalists and the Nike people milling around, seemed happy to be there, especially when they weren’t talking about Tebow. Eventually I walked out into the sun, and it reminded me how huge the building was that we were all corralled in — and I only saw half the show. Nike held court in another building just as large just down the lot, where Mike Vick was presumably being asked how he had learned from Tim Tebow, why he wasn’t Tim Tebow. Nike wasn’t saying that it had the royalty of the NFL at its beck and call. Nike was saying it was the royalty of the NFL. And who could argue?