Under a multimillion-dollar deal between St. John's and Nike, both university coaches and athletes were to wear the sportswear giant's clothing. Keady said he objected to Nike's treatment of workers at overseas factories. He later sued Nike and St. John's, but the lawsuit was dismissed.
Jordan's case "doesn't seem like such a pressing social issue," Zimbalist said, but, "nonetheless, it's a conflict."
Professional athletes generally have more freedom when it comes to endorsements. If, for instance, they don't agree with their team's choice of sneaker sponsor, they might wear their own preferred sneakers and cover their logos with white athletic tape while on the field, said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of IEG, a Chicago-based sponsorship consulting and research firm.
"It's kind of accepted: If your're going to sign a deal with a professional team as an official supplier, you understand the way things work is that a team cannot control their players to that extent," Andrews said.
Jordan's famous father, himself, demonstrated his independence from team sponsorships some 17 years ago as a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. The team was sponsored by Reebok, but Jordan and fellow teammates had endorsement deals with Nike. During the medal ceremony, Jordan obscured the Reebok logo on his warm-up outfit by draping an American flag over his shoulder.
"I don't believe in endorsing my competition," Jordan told The Boston Herald before the ceremony. "My contract with Nike is more lucrative than something with Reebok."