Nike's original ad.

Nike's updated ad.

By HOPPY KERCHEVAL

MORGANTOWN -- You've heard by now that Nike changed the background of its promotional ad for the new WVU football "Battle Gear" uniform because of objections by mountaintop removal opponents.

The ad was an artist's rendering of a player dressed in the coal-themed uniform in the foreground with something vaguely resembling a surface coal mine in the background, which several people took for a mountaintop removal mine.

Their complaint was with the background, not the uniform.

A story by The Associated Press said, "The activists said the ad appeared to be a tacit endorsement (by WVU) of the controversial form of strip mining."

Apparently, a couple of mountaintop removal opponents got in touch with the press, or vice versa. A few reporters then called WVU. The University forwarded the complaints/inquiries on to Nike, but basically stayed out of the controversy.

Nike decided to pull the coal backdrop. It has been replaced for the time being with a generic stadium background.

Where to begin?

First, the graphic doesn't even look like a mountaintop mine. Those operations tend to be brown and gray with only a thin seam of black coal. This image was all black.

Second, the ad made no mention of mountaintop removal. The copy focused generally on underground mining and paid tribute to the 29 miners who lost their lives at Upper Big Branch.

Third, this is an artist's interpretation designed by Nike to create an ominous, industrial image for promotional purposes. It's not a policy statement by the University.

The proposition that Nike's promotional ad represented some kind of endorsement by WVU of the controversial mining technique is like saying WVU supports the NRA because the Mountaineer shoots off a muzzleloader.

Fourth, the promotional ad for the special uniforms for the Miami Hurricanes features video and sounds of gale force winds, but nobody is suggesting that the University of Miami supports any destruction that Hurricane Earl may cause as it moves up the East Coast.

I could go on.

The AP breathlessly reported, "The ad plunged the school and the world's largest athletic shoe and clothing maker into one of West Virginia's most emotionally charged and politically divisive issues."

Really?

Of course West Virginia does have an ongoing argument about mountaintop removal mining. Opponents raise legitimate questions about the cost-benefit ratio of removing the tops of mountains to get to thin seems of coal.

That's an issue worthy of debate.

But debate is taken seriously only when those involved use cogent arguments. MTR opponents who complained about the Nike ad so much that Nike changed the background have undermined their own credibility with this silliness.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

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