Nike Inc. president and CEO John Donahoe was questioned about several pressing topics at this week’s CNBC CEO Council Summit in California. Among them, Donahoe addressed the ongoing feud between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney CEO Bob Iger over the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
During a conversation with CNBC financial news anchor Sara Eisen, she asked Donahoe if he was concerned that Nike would also become a target of DeSantis “as a woke corporation.”
Nike has long touted the values that define the company, which Donahoe made mention of during the conversation. Those values include racial and social justice, sustainability and youth involvement in sports. Specifically for the latter, Nike has strengthened its focus on making sports fun and welcoming for girls in recent years, with an emphasis on eliminating barriers specific to girls in sport.
The company has also faced scrutiny recently for its partnership with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney. In April, Mulvaney shared a post on social media promoting Nike’s Zenvy leggings and Alate sports bra.
Donahoe, who said he thinks Iger is “doing a great job at this,” also stated companies don’t need to speak on every political issue, but should address those that attacks its values.
“If it’s core to who you are and your values, then no, you stand up for your values,” Donahoe told CNBC. “If it’s commenting on some political issue that’s in someone else’s backyard, then we may have that personal feeling, but we don’t comment on it with our brand and publicly.”
In March 2022, DeSantis signed the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill into law, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. This law is commonly referred to as “Don’t Say Gay.”
In February 2022, Iger — who was not at the helm of Disney — said on Twitter that the bill “will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.”
DeSantis and the Florida legislature subsequently targeted the Orlando-area special tax district that had allowed Walt Disney World to essentially self-govern its operations since the late 1960s. They replaced the district’s board with their own appointees and limited some of its authority. Disney responded in April by filing a lawsuit against DeSantis.
Though Nike is headquartered in Oregon, the athletic giant operates numerous stores throughout Florida. And in November, it opened the Nike Rise retail concept in Miami’s Aventura Mall — just one of many companies taking advantage of the tourism and population increases in the city.
Aside from controversies in Florida, Donahoe also addressed with CNBC the rising tensions between the U.S. and China over the latter’s potential invasion of Taiwan and Beijing’s position in Russia’s war with Ukraine. Disassociating from China, which is one of the athletic giant’s largest markets, would be “disastrous” for global trade, Donahoe told CNBC.
“I think decoupling would be disastrous economically between the U.S. and China, or China and the European Union. If you really look at the trade flows, both ways, they play a mutually valuable role,” the exec said. “Again, we believe in global trade and we’ll continue to try to do everything we can to support that. … We believe that both economies — and the European economy as well — benefits from thoughtful, balanced trade.”
He also said global trade is a good thing for both the economy and geopolitical relations, and that consumers globally stand to benefit. “We believe that frankly, it can almost help promote peace and understanding,” Donahoe said.