To a certain extent, I think you have to be a runner to truly understand Knight. He is like so many that I have known and bonded with. Runners are a race of their own. To a runner, the world is staked on going for a run. Loyalties are tested, friendships cemented, ideas floated, stress managed, life courses altered, and deals are sealed through the sweat of a 6 mile run.
I had a copy of Phil Knight's new book Shoe Dog on my desk at school. A teacher passed by, saw the book, and said, "Everything about them is overpriced and overrated."
A Sophomore walked by, saw the book, and said, "You should see these new KDs they just put out--super sweet!! I love Nike stuff!"
Therein lies the great Nike dilemma. Kids see them as gods of invention, adults see them as gods of manipulation.
I guess for a while I have been one of those adults. As a runner for 35 years, I grew up with Nike. Waffle racers? Had em. Air Max, Pegasus? Swore by em. But I have to admit to growing skeptical of the Nike "meganess" that seemed to abandon the old mulleted runner in me.
When I saw Knight was publishing a memoir, I was eager to get the real story behind this iconic company I grew up with. It was almost like revisiting the question, "Why should I like them?" And while I knew bits and pieces of the rise of the Nike empire, I wanted to hear it from the beginning, and perhaps see things through a new lens.
Boy am I glad I did.
In a nutshell, this is a story of Phil Knight more than it is about Nike. It is a memoir, not a business model. Donald Katz did a book called just do it that examines the rise of Nike and Knight, but Shoe Dog looks more at Knight and Nike. To accomplish this, Knight goes all the way back to the sunset of his college days, which finds him much like every new college grad: In search of the meaning of life and the path to get there. Knight comes out of college armed with a "Crazy Idea" that essentially involves importing Japanese running shoes, but it is far more complicated and immense than that. The book, organized chronologically, traces the development of this Crazy Idea from a college thesis to what Nike is today. And it is quite the story!!
It is hard not to like Phil Knight after reading this book. There's a whole litany of personality traits on display that make this him successful. First, he has unbeatable tenacity. There are a million ways Nike could have failed. Money, lawsuits, personnel, timing, you name it. The challenges Knight faced were extreme, but for every punch he took, he remarkably bounced back up and figured out a way to regroup.
He also displays a humble ability to admit shortcomings, mistakes, and regrets. There are a number of times that he notes his own character flaws and how they may have hurt others, whether it be business partners or family. He is clearly a man who knows himself well--perhaps too well. There is a self deprecating tone present, and it is actually quite refreshing to hear someone so successful wear humility.
Knight insists on mixing business and fun. A central tenet of Knight's friendships and office environments is fun. Knight likes to laugh, and it was evident that while the business dealings were hot, Knight almost demanded that humor be part of the equation. He also stresses loyalty as part of his fabric. His unwavering commitment to quality and striving to be the best really drove him past the big dogs like Adidas and Puma. Knight is quite loyal to his personal connections, specifically people like Bill Bowerman, his father, his wife, investors, and others he respects and trusts. There is a clear sense of not wanting to let those down who influenced him. Many readers have found that these qualities make Shoe Dog inspirational, and I would fully agree.
I personally loved the ethos of the book. From the start, the reader gets a very worldly vibe from Knight. He makes it clear that there is a "search for oneself" phase in life that is not to be denied--one that was the catalyst for Nike. To a certain extent, I think you have to be a runner to truly understand Knight. He is like so many that I have known and bonded with. Runners are a race of their own. To a runner, the world is staked on going for a run. Loyalties are tested, friendships cemented, ideas floated, stress managed, life courses altered, and deals are sealed through the sweat of a 6 mile run. My sister still makes fun of me 20 years later for making a run part of my bachelor party! You'd have to be a runner to get it. I see Knight again in these "runner" terms after this book. He's a runner at heart: A loner, a friend, a competitor, a thinker, an internalizer, a complex simpleton, a sufferer, a loyalist. He's truly one of us. Nothing comes through clearer in Shoe Dog. I think it is something I needed to be reminded of.
This book needs to be on high school library shelves. Get it. The kids will be attracted to it primarily through the Nike swoosh, but they would be well served to read it. The writing is engaging, it is a fluid read, and there is enough drama to keep the pace fresh. As far as life lessons, there could be no stronger book for an age of kids just beginning to form their vision of the future. Knight provides a grand vision.
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One of the great things about having this blog is the constant search and discovery of cool reading resources that somehow involve the sports world. A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a book called Tackle Reading by author and urban literacy specialist Kathryn Starke.
Officially described, Tackle Reading is a resource that will motivate children, support parents, and inspire teachers and fellow educators to love literacy. This book contains stories written by NFL players, celebrities, and authors who are passionate about reading education. It also includes pieces, lesson plans, activities, and guidance provided by literacy leaders, educators, and organizations dedicated to improve literacy instruction for all children.
There are SO many things to really like about this! First, we can all agree that literacy instruction is perhaps the most important plate on the education dinner table. Reading=life. In an era of distracted kids, teaching kids to read AND to love the act of reading itself is essential. They do not exist in isolation. Starke clearly values both, which is why I value her work. The fact that she recognizes that sports is a great vehicle to promote literacy warms my heart to no end, and supports my philosophy!
May I digress slightly? The problem I have with sports(sports figures) and reading thus far is that there needs to be a more constant connection. While having a professional athlete pop into a classroom and read a cute book to kindergartners is fantastic, what really needs to happen is a more consistent dialogue between athletes and young readers. At the middle and high school level, where the stars can no longer come in for a quick reading of Curious George and head out, athlete collaboration hits the wall. Instead, you get some loose reward incentive program from the local pro team that gives stickers or free nosebleed tickets to a Wednesday night game in exchange for whatever each kid wants to fib about in their reading log. How is this personalized? Where's the real connection? Wouldn't it be great if these teenagers could see how their sports stars modeled reading in their everyday life? How cool to see athletes tweeting out what they were reading? Maybe some book clubs? Yes, GENUINE collaboration. Teenagers won't buy into anything without it.
Anyways, I urge you to check out Tackle Reading and Kathryn Starke. I haven't seen too many things out there that try to forge a real, sustainable partnership in this area, but this has promise. Kathryn is smart, she "gets it" when it comes to reading philosophy, and she incorporates sports! Winner! Order her book for your library and get it out to your teachers and parents. If you are a parent, there is great value in Starke's material to promote independent reading at home.
Look, I'm a runner not a fighter. When I was asked by VOYA Magazine to create a list of good sports books for fighting/combat sports, I felt a little unqualified at first. I mean, how many librarians are versed in MMA fighting, boxing, or wresting? Sports involving beating people into submission are not exactly the hot topic of conversation at library conventions. And contrary to popular belief, I have never gotten into the ring with another librarian to settle a score over a conflicting Dewey classification. (But judging from looks of things at these gatherings, I might actually stand a good chance of winning)
I'll be damned, however, if I was going to get sand kicked in my face! So, I fought back with a list of sports combat books that I think is terrific and that I am sure will knock anyone out in your library!
Here is a copy of my story that appeared in the October issue of VOYA Magazine. Take a read and consider some of these selections. I have found that there is a huge appetite for these titles.
Click on the article image for the story and full list of books!!
In the November issue, Runner's World rolled out a retro running theme for their 50th anniversary that provided a fun little blast into the past for me! One specific article that caught my eye was "Front Row of the Revolution," by Tish Hamilton, which does a fantastic job tracing the rise of women in running. As a runner for some 30 years, it is interesting to put into context just how important women have become to running--and I guess running to women--over that time. In coaching both girls and boys distance running at the high school level for 25 years, I have witnessed not only the dramatic rise in participation of girls in the sport, but the quality of female runners and the PR's being set in races are nothing short of incredible. There truly is a revolution!
In light if this, I thought I would highlight some books on women and running. In looking through my collection, however, I was shocked to find that about 90% of my running books involved male runners! While I am sure that the female runners in my school could identify with male running characters and would read those books, there was very little I had to represent their specific side of the sport. To make matters worse, as I set out to find books for female runners, there was a clear lack of material to satisfy this need. Not only was I neglecting female runners, but authors were as well.
Luckily, a few strong options are pressing their way to the front. Amby Burfoot does a nice job tracing the history of women runners in his book First Ladies of Running. I can assure you that when I ask my male runners about great distance runners throughout history, they can rattle off Pre, Shorter, Rodgers, Salazar, etc. with ease! When I ask my girls team to talk about influential female runners, I get crickets. The book does a nice job of highlighting female pioneers of running, and would be a wise addition to any library.
Other books highlight more inspirational stories of female runners. Some are professional athletes, most are ladies looking for outlets to better themselves. Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley, and Mile Markers by Kristin Armstrong provide fantastic examples and motivation for females looking to running for empowerment. There are also some excellent titles about running and family. My Year of Running Dangerously talks about the author's challenge of keeping up in running with his 18 year old daughter (I can relate!) and the Run like a Mother books by by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea are entertaining looks at the correlation between running and being a better parent.
Finally, I wanted to include a very relevant book I just purchased for my library called Fit Not Healthy by Vanessa Alford. As a story about how a woman's obsession to be the best runner caused unhealthy habits, it is very applicable to a growing segment of competitive female runners that I see who are pushing themselves beyond what is healthy to maintain a competitive edge.
Here is one wish I have for future running books. I have been able to stock up on many great running titles about male high school and college cross country team experiences. I would love there to be some of these same inspirational stories involving female teams. I know they are out there!