Kids Using Creativity to Confront Cancer

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.

Ken Robinson

Three years ago a University of Oregon football player approached Todd Van Horne, Nike Football’s Creative Director, and asked a question: "What if pediatric cancer survivors designed a uniform for the team?"

Van Horne liked the idea, but knows that designing new uniforms for Oregon presents unique challenges. Most college football teams have just a handful of uniform combinations. Teams like Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska may have only two. Compare this to a University of Oregon team that could wear a different uniform combination every game until the year 3344.

But for the three young designers selected for the project, taking on challenges is a part of life. They’ve survived cancer.

Joe MacDonald, Sophia Malinoski, Ethan Frank, three cancer survivors from Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, met with Nike designers four times and Oregon football players twice in a workshop setting. Together they brainstormed, sketched, and shared ideas. The result was a complete uniform system from helmets to cleats. 


The kids stumped the designers along the way.

“Some of the stuff they brought to the table was like, ‘Wow, I never thought of that before!’” says Paul Sullivan, the University of Oregon Art Director for Nike. 

“Sophia initially wanted a bright blue helmet to represent the sky, but given Oregon's primary colors are green and yellow, we suggested making the helmet chrome to reflect the sky,” remembers Sullivan. “Sophia’s idea encouraged us to push the boundaries here.

Ethan focussed on the small design elements that appear on the final product, advocating, for example, that the Ducks reintroduce the wings on the helmets.

Among Joe’s suggestions was a camouflage pattern on the compression pants to represent the battle against cancer.

This Saturday Oregon will wear their new uniforms when they square off against Nebraska. Coaches and sideline staff, along with the Oregon fans that fill Autzen Stadium, will also wear apparel that feature designs by Joe, Sophia, and Ethan. Money raised from the project will support a pediatric cancer fund at Oregon Health & Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.


The Takeaway

Care drives creativity. If we care, we’ll be curious. And if we’re curious, we’ll be creative.

The story of Nike’s collaboration with Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and the University of Oregon illustrates the inseparable relationship between care, curiosity, and creativity. This project wouldn’t have succeeded without all three.

Care birthed curiosity in the Oregon football player who initially proposed the idea. Nike’s response to the suggestion, this uncommon collaboration, and the unique ideas the patient designers brought to the project, all illustrate how care drives innovation.

Nike didn’t play it safe. It would have been easier to just do the commemorative uniforms themselves. But Van Horne and others who worked on the project demonstrated the humility and courage that’s necessary to create "original ideas that have value."

When we care, our creative mind goes to work knitting together all we’ve gleaned by being curious. We entertain multiple options at the same time, combines ideas, and keep knitting until all the pieces come together. 

All because we care. (Go Ducks!)

© Andrew F. Robinson 2017. All rights reserved.

Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash  
Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash


Andrew Robinson