Nike has been very vocal in their support of Tiger Woods, despite the recent news of his egregious infidelity and lack of moral judgment. A precarious decision, especially as all other corporate sponsors – including Accenture, AT&T, Proctor & Gamble, Gatorade and Tag Hauer – have cut ties with what was once golf’s Golden Boy, and cancelled deals valued at an estimated $48 million.

This then begs the question: Is Nike missing the message here, or is this a smart, strategic move for the brand to stick with Tiger when everyone else walks away?

As the most recognized and influential global sports brand, Nike has an opportunity and responsibility to set the standard and define the role of social responsibility in sports. In an industry that is often criticized for its lenient athlete discipline policies and its willingness to sacrifice sustainability for performance, Nike failed to capitalize on an opportunity to add credibility to its own brand while making strides to transform an industry. By turning a blind eye to Woods’ personal problems, Nike has proliferated the sentiment that athletes are not subject to consequence for their personal indiscretions.

Not only does Nike’s unconditional support of Tiger Woods reflect an inability to integrate social responsibility into business decision-making processes, but it also discredits the company’s entire philanthropic motivation. While Nike is at the forefront of many CSR activities, including fair trade and worker conditions (largely due to a 1997 scandal in Vietnam), when a seemingly unrelated, but still irresponsible, decision is made that is inconsistent with the firm’s overall responsibility platform, the brand loses credibility and erodes consumer trust.

Perhaps Nike doesn’t worry about the potential backlash and negative connotation Tiger may bring to the brand. The brand has been built on such strong and stable pillars of athletics, competition and innovation that perhaps it can withstand this temporary shock to the brand image. However, even if this is the rationale for Nike as a single company, its handling of the Tiger Woods situation has done little to progress the socially responsible efforts of the rest of the industry. With Nike’s strong brand image and market power, I would hope that Nike would be less internally-focused, and instead look at opportunities to transform the sports industry by developing social citizenship codes of conduct that others will follow.

—paul.c