In this paper l consider how the contemporary national imagination is fabricated through racially coded deviance by interrogating what Nike calls its P.L.A.Y (Participate in the Lives of American Youth) campaign. P.L.A.Y., represented as a practical challenge to recent developments that deny “kids” access to sport and fitness activities, is part of a promotional network through which Nike seeks to secure a patriotic, charitable, and socially responsible public profile. In part, this profile and the complex terrain Nike occupies are territorialized through the somatic identity of Michael Jordan. I argue that representative figures like American Jordan are both effects and instruments of modern power. As such, Jordan is an element in and expression of a discursive formation that works to delimit and render intelligible what/who count as violent, criminal, and dangerous. The regulatory ideals invoked through a nation-centric discourse, American principles, Michael Jordan, and the apparent inverse relationship between urban sport and gangs work to bound and limit identities in ways that mask the complexities of the terrain occupied by transnational corporations like Nike, while exacerbating punitive and vengeful desires directed at Black urban youth.
Cheryl L. Cole is with the Department of Kinesiology, Women’s Studies, and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL 61801.