With his decision in 2016 to kneel during the national anthem, protesting police brutality and African-American oppression, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the face of a peaceful protest movement in the NFL. Two years later, Kaepernick became the face of Nike’s 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign.
On Sept. 4, 2018, Nike published a photo of Kaepernick plastered with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It,” across his face. Controversy and boycotts popped up across social media, taking on the hashtag #BoycottNike.
This issue stems from Kaepernick’s protests in 2016 that sparked a kneeling movement across the entire NFL. Many opponents of Kaepernick accuse him, the other players, coaches and staff participating in the movement of disrespecting the flag and the military.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now?’” said President Donald Trump in 2016 in response to the kneeling. “I don’t think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem. Many people have died,” added Trump, in reference to fallen military members.
Apart from the obvious vulgarity from our Commander in Chief, the main problem with Trump’s stance on the protests is the prevalent belief that the military owns the flag, patriotism, the national anthem and all of democracy. Indeed, our troops sacrifice more than many people in their lifetimes, protecting our ideals, but they don’t own the flag. The flag, the anthem and our freedom belong to everyone.
It’s even more ironic that Trump, a known draft dodger, is speaking out in support of our military.
Nike isn’t exactly the shining model of a company, being accused of using child labor and sweatshops in the past, but it’s a shame that the public only begins to protest Nike when they endorse a black athlete who’s known for peacefully protesting.
Boycotting Nike won’t do anything either. All these Twitter heroes burning their Nike products in response to the advertisement won’t hurt Nike one bit, but it’s their prerogative. Burning already–paid–for Nike products doesn’t hurt the company that has already profited from the sale.
I’m fairly certain that Nike knew that the advertisement would draw calls of boycott and perhaps even a response from stockholders, but those were risks Nike was willing to take. Nike’s consumers skew toward a younger generation of active voices in social issues, and despite the backlash, the campaign has proven successful, receiving more than $43 million worth of exposure in less than a day, reported Bloomberg.
Taking a page out of Trump’s book, all publicity is good publicity.
The most startling part of the saga is how the NFL had previously responded—bent their knees—to Trump’s wishes. This summer, the NFL owners have tried to satiate Trump by announcing fines for teams if players kneel during the national anthem, but that’s not enough for our president. Accusing the NFL of disrespecting the flag and the military ratchets the irony tenfold, as a number of active players have served in the military, unlike our courageous president.
The timing of Kaepernick’s “Just Do It” advertisement is something to consider as well. Airing the same week as the first games of the 2018 NFL season is genius on Nike’s part. Nike makes all the jerseys and merchandise of the NFL, and they’re airing the full-length commercial featuring Kaepernick, Serena Williams and LeBron James the whole week across multiple sports networks.
The League and NFL Players’ Association have yet to agree on a kneeling policy, but knowing the League’s past, they could take notes from both Nike and the NBA.
Nike has a longstanding tradition of standing by their athletes, as seen with their support of Williams when the president of the French Tennis Federation barred her from wearing a custom bodysuit at the French Open.
Nike athletes have shown their gratitude by supporting the brand. James spoke out in support of Kaepernick and Nike saying, “I stand with Nike, all day, every day.”
The NBA, admittedly catering to a different demographic of viewers, has always stood firm against Trump and stood up against oppression and division.
“I think the president has made it clear he’s going to try to divide us — all of us — in this country for political gain. That’s just the way it is,” said Steve Kerr, head coach of the current NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. “I think we all look forward to the day when we can go back to just having a celebration of athletic achievement and celebrate Americans for their achievement, their good deeds.”
The NBA has it figured out. NBA athletes, encouraged by their league, are engaged in all sorts of social activism, including Kaepernick’s battle with African-American oppression and police brutality. Meanwhile, the NFL isn’t showing loyalty to its players and continues to pander for Trump. The owners need to stand with their players ahead of the 2018 season and listen to the words of Nike and Kaepernick: Just Do It.