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Bjork Reflects On 10-Day Nike Asia Tour

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For more than a decade, Nike has invited college administrators to see their factories that they contract with and see how the company does business in Asia. 

This past month, Ole Miss' Ross Bjork was among the group of five athletics directors and three representatives that toured Nike overseas facilities in Vietnam and China. Bjork was joined on the 10-day tour by Tom Bowen (Memphis), Scott Leykam (Portland), Dr. Hans Mueh (Air Force) and Rob Mullens (Oregon). 

"For Nike, it's an education to make sure everyone is comfortable with the process and how we do business in Asia," Bjork said. "You have these big contracts with a university to outfit their teams and their product. It's a great thing for Nike to do this to make sure that we know how they conduct themselves and that we feel comfortable with them."

Bjork flew out of Memphis on Jan. 15 to Chicago and then to Tokyo and finally to Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam and the first stop of the tour, where the group took day trips to nearby villages and toured two Nike-contracted factories. 

From Ho Chi Minh City, the group traveled to three cities in China, starting with Guangzhou, which Bjork described as a city of factories, before wrapping up the trip with stops in Shanghai and Beijing and then flying home on Jan. 25.

"Nike is very conscientious about factory and working conditions and making sure they're partnering with the right companies who operate these factories," Bjork said. "They are conscientious about labor and workers' rights. I knew that before the trip, but until you actually see it and walk on a factory line, you can't really understand it."

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It was not just a clearer, first-hand understanding of Nike and their work in Asia, Bjork said, but also an appreciation for the people of Vietnam and China. 

"I learned perspective and appreciation for the freedom we have in the United States but also great respect for what those people have to go through to live in China and Vietnam and go about their business under the same values and principles that we have, but in a much more controlled environment," Bjork said.

Bjork was also impressed with how Nike and their contracted factories have similar business fundamentals, in terms of vision statement, purpose and core values. The difference is how they present them, which Bjork said they might emulate and try to bring to Ole Miss.

"The one thing that I was impressed with was the visual presentation that they do in these factories around their core values and mission," Bjork said. "When you walk in the front door of the factory buildings, they had vision statement, purpose and core values on the wall. We talk about those things here, but they visualize it.

"If you walk in our building, we don't have our perspective up. That's one thing that I want to look at here is to maybe visualize in our buildings what we stand for and how we operate. I was very impressed with that. Whether it was China or Vietnam, the factories all had their purpose and vision in full display."

Moving forward, Ole Miss has a full apparel contract with Nike, a seven-year deal that started on July 1, 2012, which Bjork noted was negotiated and in place before he was named athletics director on March 21, 2012. 

From his observations and conversations on the tour with Nike and factory staff, Bjork said he is pleased with Ole Miss' relationship with the company, as well as their relationship with Kit Morris, Nike's Director of College Sports Marketing and an Ole Miss graduate.

"I see our Nike relationship evolving and growing because we have great relationships with Kit, his staff and his team," Bjork said. "Our equipment staff has a great relationship with the people at Nike. 

"I see the relationship evolving and growing over the life of the contract, but also as you look to the future and what happens after 2019. Nike is a great partner, and we'll see what happens as we get closer to that point."

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Here's part of a profile on former Ole Miss football player and now successful businessman Billy Van Devender, who was college teammates and roommates with Archie Manning. The full story, as well as the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation website, is linked below.

At the premiere of the ESPN Films documentary "The Book of Manning," Billy Van Devender shared a special moment with former roommate and good friend Archie Manning. 

In partnership with Ole Miss athletics, the Van Devender and Manning families made significant contributions to the Forward Together campaign to rename the indoor football practice facility the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.

"It was very emotional," Van Devender said. "My wife, Mollie, and I were there, and my children were there. Archie and Olivia did not know that it was going to be named after them. They walked in the room, and there were a lot of moist eyes in the room. Everybody was excited and emotionally charged. They were very appreciative of it. It's a great tribute to them. 

"I've always believed that, 'to whom much is given, much is expected.' Everyone says they want to give back, and that's what I'm trying to do here. I feel strongly that we have the right leadership at Ole Miss, and I know that head football coach Hugh Freeze is not only interested in winning football games, but he's genuinely interested in the student-athletes who we're recruiting and playing football. He wants them to be good examples and good citizens when they leave Ole Miss."

Full StoryGiveToAthletics.com

Concussions and other head injuries have gained more attention and emphasis in recent years in college and professional football. To help address these problems, The University of Mississippi recently launched a new Ph.D. program with a neuroscience component, the university announced on Oct. 30.


One of only three programs of its kind in the nation, the UM curriculum is designed to train professionals to help those with traumatic brain injuries recover better. The new special education doctoral program trains educators to use therapies that incorporate mathematics, language and other subjects to speed and improve recovery.

The new special education Ph.D. has multiple components: one helps students learn how the brain works, while other sections of the curriculum deal with literacy, diversity and behaviors. Neurosciences are studied in all areas of the new program.

"We're going to be able to really draw a lot of students nationally because of the Ph.D. with the neuroscience component," said Roy J. Thurston, UM assistant professor of special education. "Some other universities have master's degrees in neuroscience, but the only other doctorates I know of are at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Harvard University."

Chancellor Dan Jones, who is a medical doctor, has been a leader in the movement to understand and prevent concussions in sports. In 2012, he was appointed to chair a Southeastern Conference working group on concussions. He said he is happy that the university's faculty is engaged in addressing the issue through the new program.

"I am pleased that our faculty are providing leadership in the field of education, especially in the area of educating those with traumatic brain injury," Jones said. "This is another great example of University of Mississippi faculty seeking opportunities to transform lives through education and service."


Thurston, who set up the UM Ph. D. program, did his research is in cognitive rehabilitation of those with traumatic brain injuries and also in neuroscience applications to education. The therapies taught in the program could be particularly useful as it relates to college and professional football.


"When people pursue this degree, they can go work not just in K-12 education systems; they can work in rehabilitation and also hospital situations," Thurston said. "Because there are so many brain injuries now and the survival rate is huge compared to what it used to be, they really need cognitive rehabilitation. We look at how we're going to get these people back to school, back to competitive employment, get their lives back together."

The therapies taught in the program could be particularly useful as more emphasis has been placed in recent years on head injuries in college and professional football. Officials have pushed to limit the number of injuries through better helmet technology and rules changes designed to make the game safer. But injuries still occur, and advancements in figuring out how to treat them continue.


The SEC working group on concussions, which Jones chaired, announced an update in May, having reviewed the Concussion Management plans of all SEC member institutions and conducted an extensive review of studies, practices, and literature on concussions. The Group remains in existence and will continue to review research, identify best practices and standards of care, disseminate information to SEC member institutions and develop educational strategies. 


"There is much work to be done, and while the Conference has a role to play, prevention and treatment of concussion injuries is a national concern that needs and deserves a coordinated national effort," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive stated. "For this reason, the Presidents and Chancellors will make a formal request that the NCAA take the lead in organizing and spearheading a national research effort and examining possible revisions to playing rules in football and other sports.

"The Group's objective was and is to help member institutions in their respective efforts to safeguard the health and welfare of student athletes. The Group gathered information about concussions, identifying best practices and standards of care, as well as provided information about such practices and standards to team physicians, trainers, athletic directors, and coaches of SEC member institutions. 


The Ole Miss football team currently uses the IMPACT test, which is part of the testing used when an athlete shows any symptoms or signs of a concussion, such as linebacker Serderius Bryant who suffered a concussion against Texas A&M earlier this season.


"Every single athlete that comes in here, as part of the pre-participation physical exam, everybody has baseline screening for cognitive and motor skills," said Shannon Singletary, Senior Associate A.D. for Health and Sports Performance.

"We do balance testing. And we do cognitive testing, both on and off the computer. They do IMPACT testing, which is on a computer, and it tests hand-eye coordination, cerebral input and memory, among other things.

"On the front end, we give all our athletes an education sheet with the symptoms of concussions. We also post them in their locker rooms. If you have any of these, you must report these symptoms to the athletic trainer. Once those symptoms are reported, then we can go back and test them again on those tests and compare them to their baselines. No athletes who have concussion symptoms during a game are allowed to go back into the game until we feel 100 percent that those symptoms have been resolved, and there has been a period of healing."

Ross Bjork - 2013 State of Ole Miss Athletics from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo.

In case you missed it yesterday, above is a message from Director of Athletcs Ross Bjork on the state of Ole Miss athletics. Below are some key points:

Record-high $26 million in cash donations to Ole Miss Athletics Foundation
- Student-athletes recorded a 2.87 cumulative GPA and participated in more than 20 service projects
- Ole Miss Athletics will partner with the William Winter Institute for a Racial Reconciliation week this fall
- 810,000 fans attended home events last season
- Forward Together capital campaign received $22 million in new gifts
- Ole Miss Athletics budget will increase from $62 million (2012-13) to $70 million (2013-14)
- Next month, Ole Miss Athletics will relaunch the Forward Together campaign, with an updated basketball arena design and location, preliminary look at the new North End Zone design and project timeline for the master plan
- This year, Ole Miss Athletics will host a live, weekly show that will be streamed on OleMissSports.com
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