Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Wednesday, I asked those of you in Tennessee to submit a public records request on behalf of Deadspin because ours had been denied due to a chilling and arbitrary law limiting records requests to Tennessee residents only. I wanted copies of Tennessee's communication with Nike, because the university's controversial ditching of the name "Lady Vols" has swooshprints all over. A whole lot of you responded and submitted requests for us. Thanks so much for the help! But did Tennessee even bother reading all the requests you sent? I'm almost certain the answer is no.


Some said they used the language I had submitted exactly, which asked for this:

... copies of all documented communication between the Office of Communications & Marketing, the Athletic Department, and Nike. This request includes and is not limited to emails, letters, memos, proposals, and text messages. This request covers a time period from Jan. 1, 2013, to today.

At least one person said he included the language suggested by former Deadspin writer Doug Brown to narrow the search, which asked for "all emails, with attachments, containing the term 'nike' sent to and sent from the following University of Tennessee employees since 1/1/2013: [AD administrators], [women's basketball staff], [apparel person], [university comm./marketing people]."

Everybody got the exact same answer: a copy of the Nike branding audit and nothing else. Not a single email. Not one text message. Not even a lonely memo, draft, or letter, a return that ignores what we asked for and goes against what logic suggests is the mountain of paperwork generated when a billion-dollar university system interacts with a billion-dollar company. There are only two ways this is possible:

  1. Nike intentionally conducted all business with Tennessee only over the phone or in person, specifically to keep everything out of the public record.
  2. The University of Tennessee is telling us to go fuck ourselves.

Both of those options are disturbing! Either way, UT is laughing in the face of the entire concept of public records—allowing us to see what our government agencies, and recipients of our tax dollars, are up to.


In all the responses we've received, Tennessee doesn't even address the lack of records they are returning. This is what they've told every person: "Attached is the document that the University understands to be the subject of your request." That's all, with the audit attached. A few people have written back to Tennessee asking for an explanation, but no one has yet received one.

And so we're left with a giant pile of postindustrial brand manipulation from Nike. Here are some "highlights" with the full audit below.


Five whole phases of research! My favorite part is "synthesize learnings" because the worst is when people leave their learnings scattered about. "Apply brand architecture" and "nurture brand champions" are close runners-up for meaningless jargon.


One page is just pictures. And then comes even more "analysis."


It's merely a collection of other conference logos.

Later comes the " identify analysis" of using the Power T versus Lady Vols.


The only direct reference I could find to why Lady Vols had to go was, "The continued use of Lady Volunteers further segments an athletic institution that is striving to be united as 'One Tennessee.'" Except that can't be completely true because they kept it for the women's basketball team, an exception the audit doesn't address. It ends by recommending the "develop[ment of] comprehensive Tennessee athletics brand guidelines."

Will those brand guidelines be considered a public record by Tennessee? Who knows.


Image via Getty

h/t Chris Cardwell, BronzeHammer, Chris Howell, Daniel Hay, Nathanael Gabler, Cullen Morgan, Justin Wamble, Luis Antonio Castellanos, Jarrod Wetherill


Share This Story

Get our newsletter