The hot mess at Hayward Field: Some thoughts on Phil Knight, Nike co-founder and his interview with Eugene Register Guard

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Well, the hot mess that is the rebuild, renovation, razing of Hayward Field, take your choice, is growing. Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, graduate of the University of Oregon (and Stanford, for that matter), has done an interview, and a very good one at that, with the hometown paper, Eugene's Registar-Guard.

First question. Is track & field the ONLY sport that complains when someone donates $200 million plus to redo an icon? Baseball stadiums are redone, football stadiums are redone. Track & Field seems to be the only sport that truly eats its young, or old, for that matter.

HaywardFieldFE1-USOlyTr16.jpgHayward Field, July 2016, photo by PhotoRun.net

The interview features great photos, audio bites, and a well written story, by Austin Meek. In the story, Phil Knight notes that, the University of Oregon is important to him, hence he and his wife, Penny, have given several hundred million to the university. Mr. Knight also supported the rebuild of Hayward Field, sacred ground for Mr. Knight and his brand, Nike, for many reasons. At first, Mr. Knight was asked to give $50 million, and he and his wife agreed, then, it was $75 million, and he noted approval, then, it was $100 million, and by $125 million, Mr. Knight was, well, not a happy camper. He pulled out of the project, per the story. And then, he came back to the project.

I have never met Mr. Knight. I have observed him, (quite civilly), from afar. I have been within five feet of the guy who co founded Nike, but never been introduced. As a midwesterner, there are certian bits of programming that I can not eliminate. One is the motif of using a Mr. or Ms. with someone I do not know, or want to have a formal distance from in writing, for example. I admire Mr. Knight. I like his respect for Japanese culture, his contrarian approaches to sports, sports marketing and building a business and, his wry public views of his sense of humor. I respect that he took Nike from the brink of nothingness to the sports brand that, like it or not, has the most influence on the culture of sports today.

I have found it fascinating, how now, in 2018, Mr. Knight is quite comfortable in public settings and doing interviews. I think that is great. That was not always the case with Mr. Knight. I recall a time, about 1986, when I was a few feet from Mr. Knight at a Nike beer fest at the SuperShow, where he spoke to his team, from the heart, on the coming battle with Reebok. Ah, that was a different era. At the Supershow, a huge series of sports shows, where, for seven days, we checked out new product, begged for money and ate and drank on major brand's largesse, businesses were started, flourished and ended. It was Darwin's Survival of the Fittest in the sports business. Nike and Reebok had huge spaces there, as did adidas. The rumor mill was rife, in 1986, that Reebok was about to buy Nike. That would never happen. Phil Knight called on those demons that helped him take third in 1958 in a dual meet with Washington in the mile, and took Reebok apart, limb by very limb. For Mr. Knight, it was war, and Phil Knight loved a good battle. It seems that he, and the brand he co-founded with the late Bill Bowerman, still does.

The Hayward Field project is becoming, if it is not already, very complicated. The balkanization of this project is frightening. Mr. Knight included Howard Slusher in the project in early 2018. Slusher is like Mr. Wolf (Harvey Kietel) in Pulp Fiction. Mr. Slusher is a fixer, a cleaner, a man of a certian age, and certain means, who does not take a liking to subterfuge. Mr. Knight tends to appoint Mr. Slusher to a project when it gets out of control, or, when he wants it done right. When it was announced a few months ago that Mr. Slusher was put in charge of the project, I knew that meant that the project, rumored to be adrift, was back on track.

This is where the hot mess comes in. On April 17, the new design was revealed at reception for 45 guests, including donors, coaches, athletes and faculty. The April 2018 redesign threw out the original redesign, by Tinker Hatfield, and it seems, the various sides came out fighting. There have been letters from Kenny Moore, Peter Thompson, Tinker Hatfield and others, defending each side of the equation. I am not really sure where it is right now.

Here is the complete resource on the re-design as presented from the University of Oregon.

The estimated cost for the new Hayward Field is suggested at somewhere around $228 million, most of the donations are from Phil and Penny Knight.

How will this play out? I have not the foggiest. I presume that Mr. Knight and Mr. Slusher will have to make some hard decisions. Mr. Knight seems to believe that a benign dictatorship is needed to get a project like this, with so many moving parts, completed. Mr. Slusher, to get this project on time, and to keep the University of Oregon, the IAAF, and others happy, will have to refer to the wisdom of King Solomon (of course, a biblical reference). This time, however, in order to keep the project on time, on budget, and realistic, someone is not going to be happy. That is a fact of modern life.

Mr. Knight noted, in the Register Guard article, that he may be the most reviled man in Eugene when the project begins. I hope that does not happen. People need to remember that the Knights did not have to donate this money to Hayward Field. They have donated to huge projects at both the University of Oregon and Stanford University, helping support future generations of problem solvers. It is sad that their largesse has been caught up in what seems like an impasse.

I hope that a meeting of the minds can happen, where sides can be heard, and some common ground can be found. Not sure though, in the current zeitgeist, where social media celebrates partisanship, and does not seem to be able to bring sides together. The given should be, that Hayward Field needs to be, at the very least, updated. It would be sad to see one of the true sanctuaries of our sport worldwide becomes an very expensive eyesore.

We will probably be writing more on this.

If you have an opinion, send me a note at [email protected].

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