“Don’t Do It!” The Stunning Story of Nike, “Just Do It? and a Convicted Murderer

WHITESTONE, NY – The name Dan Wieden may not mean anything to anybody until they finish reading this column. Wieden, who was the co-founder of the advertising agency Wieden-Kennedy, passed away at his home in Portland, Oregon on September 30th 2022 at the age of 77.

Wieden’s spirit will remain a part of everyone’s wardrobe from the three words that he created. The words, “Just Do It,” put Nike on the map which created a global sensation. The shoe company was struggling to remain in business as they were competing with Reebok and Adidas until 1988.  That’s when Wieden phrased the slogan to go along with the swoosh logo and the rest is history.

Where Wieden came up with the simple three word phrase is another story. He read Norman Mailer’s acclaimed 1979 book, The Executioners Song. The book was about convicted murdered Gary Gilmore. Gilmore was executed by a firing squad in Utah back in 1977. His execution followed his conviction of first degree murder and armed robbery of victims Max Jensen and Bennie Bushell.

On the morning of January 17th 1977 at around 8:05 am Gilmore was asked if he had any last words, he replied, “Let’s Do It!” These words stuck with Wieden and he scribbled, “Do it ” in a notebook for future references.

Eleven years later the word “Just” was added to the “Do it” scribble and introduced on a television commercial. The ad featured an 80 year old man named Walt Stack who ran 17 miles every morning. The goal of the ad was to sell a shoe that could meet the needs of everyone regardless of age or fitness level.

“Just Do It,” quickly became a catch phrase which meant to represent living life on your own terms, daring to take a chance on and off the playing field.

Aristostle “Mugsy” Sakellaridis

So there you have it. “Just Do It” was inspired by the final words of a heartless killer, which led to billions of dollars for the NIKE industry machine. The phrase’s meaning of, living life on your own terms, is a far cry of what Gilmore committed.

I’m wondering if the Gilmore family is getting any compensation for Nike’s usage of their relative’s final words. Among other controversies Nike Inc. has been accused of using sweatshops and abusing workers to produce their sneakers and apparel in East Asia. The origin of its catch phrase is a real eye opener being the partial words came out of a killer’s mouth.

I think I’ll go start my own sneaker line with the phrase “Don’t Do It,” so I can send some monies to the Jensen and Bushell family.

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About Aristotle "Mugsy" Sakellaridis 114 Articles
Aristotle "Mugsy" Sakellaridis is the junkiest of baseball junkies. He plays in 4 leagues, well past his 40th birthday, and spends the winter in Florida shagging flies at Yankees minor league complexes. He's also a retired Riker's Island Corrrection Officer - having worked the night shift for 20+ years.