As a Catholic institution, the Father Ryan community is constantly reflecting on its Gospel mission and its impact on the culture and society in which our students live. The mission, supported by Catholic doctrine and social teaching, calls our ecclesial community to give each person a life of dignity. Over the years, the Catholic faith and identity of Father Ryan High School have challenged the social norms. In August of 1954, Father Ryan opened its doors to African-American students, becoming the first school in Tennessee to integrate. In 1963, Father Ryan became the first school to integrate athletics in Tennessee, beginning with basketball in the Nashville Interscholastic League. The Gospel message calls the community to take courageous steps, even in the face of objection and adversity.
In the winter of 2012-2013, like many high schools and colleges, Father Ryan was negotiating an apparel deal for the school’s athletic program. Simultaneously, Jim Keady, a former athlete, college coach and nationally recognized speaker, was presenting to our students regarding labor practices in the garment industry. He spoke to our sophomores and juniors about the abhorrent labor practices of athletic apparel companies in developing countries. He made compelling arguments regarding the absence of human dignity in the garment factories of Indonesia, China, and Vietnam. After hearing Mr. Keady, and after much discernment, prayer and research, Father Ryan decided it cannot knowingly support those elements of the garment industry that profit from the unjust treatment of others. After continued conversations with Mr. Keady and his staff at the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, the school decided to take action.
First, the school will attempt to not show any brands whose work practices are not in keeping with Catholic social teaching. Because the business of using cheap overseas labor is so pervasive, it is difficult to find an athletic apparel company that adheres to JUST labor practices. Knowing that Father Ryan has to provide athletic uniforms for its teams, Father Ryan will place a patch showing the Jerusalem Cross over the brand on the school’s jerseys and outerwear. The school will not “advertise” for companies whose work practices oppose the teachings of the Gospel, the Church, and the mission of the school. Within two years, the school will also not show offending brands in our athletic outerwear and in the school’s bookstore.
Apparel dealers and apparel companies offer incentives for many schools to use their products, putting schools in the position of advertising for athletic companies. These companies are able to offer these deals to schools because the cost of producing goods in developing countries is cheap. However, while we go brandless, Father Ryan will not accept any incentives or promotional products from athletic companies. In good conscience, the school cannot accept goods and products knowing these companies are able to do so because of their unjust labor practices.
Father Ryan recognizes the ills and injustice that exist in the global corporate world, as well as the good work done by many other global companies. We have chosen to address athletic apparel as a first step in a continuing effort to help live out the Gospel message. As the school moves forward, we will examine more of our corporate relationships.
Please pray for the community as we continue to evaluate our values and mission in relation to society today.