Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist at the Washington Post, walked into a Saudi Arabian consulate last week. He didn't walk out. Evidence suggests that the Saudis killed him after a torturous interrogation. Fifteen Saudi men set this trap for Khashoggi, and then cut his body into pieces and shipped his remains out of the country.
Despite the many horrors inflicted by the Saudi monarchy, the United States has relied on them to counter Iran, sell us oil, and buy our weapons. Our country continues to work with Saudi Arabia closely, although the regime executes gay people, treats women only slightly better than livestock, and is now slaughtering Yemeni civilians.
Now that the Saudis have killed a journalist who we consider our own (Khashoggi lived in the United States and wrote for the Washington Post), we must face the uncomfortable fact that the least of many evils is still evil.
The American government is taking its sweet time on formulating a response. Now, however, is a great time to remember that America is more than its government. There is another powerful institution that says it supports the rights of the Davids against the Goliaths. That institution is far more agile than government, and it is not only present, but powerful, in Saudi Arabia.
I'm talking about Nike.
Nike provides the jersey kits for the Saudi national soccer team. It also sponsors two domestic teams. The company works closely with Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and has provided the national team's kits every year since 2011.
Unless you've been in a coma for the past few months, you've seen that Nike is taking a stand for the right to protest. The brand says, "Stand for something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."
No one embodies that slogan more than Khashoggi, who was just forced to sacrifice everything because he dared criticize the Saudi regime.
Nike has already invested in positioning its brand on the right side of history. Now they need to commit to their own message. If Nike wants to be the uniform of the underdogs, it must stop outfitting the athletic ambassadors of autocracy. In this year's press release about the kits, Nike says the design "honors past glory while putting the nation’s ever-present pride front and center."
Pulling the sponsorship would be more than a symbolic gesture; it would directly punish the al-Saud family for their wrongdoing. The family is intimately involved in fostering soccer as an economic engine and export. The Saudi Arabian Football Federation was founded by Prince Abdullah bin Faisal, and is now overseen by a government agency called the General Sports Authority. The national team plays its home matches at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium. The regime wants to be identified with its soccer team, and the Nike swoosh lends the team, and the nation, legitimacy in the global arena.
If Nike thinks they can ride out the Saudi controversy, they're wrong. Things will get worse from here. On Oct. 28, the regime will decide whether or not to behead 29-year-old Israa al-Ghomgham. Al-Ghomgham is accused of participating in a peaceful protest, taking video of the event, and sharing it on social media. Al-Ghomgham and four other defendants have not been charged with a violent crime. However, because they are part of the country's Shia minority, the government is willing to kill them anyway, as it has executed dozens of peaceful activists in recent years.
Al-Ghomgham and her compatriots are very likely about to sacrifice everything, and Nike is still manufacturing the officially licensed jersey of the oppressors. Nike should not allow Saudi Arabia to proudly display the iconic Nike swoosh while it is murdering peaceful dissidents under the grisly swoosh of an executioner's sword.
Should Nike do the right thing here. The al-Saud family may retaliate by shutting down all of the dozen or so Nike stores in the country. The company could survive that financial hit. It might not survive the erosion of its brand that should come from sponsoring the mascots of evil. It's our turn to tell Nike what they first told us: Just do it.
Angela Morabito (@AngelaLMorabito) writes about politics, media, ethics, and culture. She holds both a bachelor's and master's degree from Georgetown University.