Nike Kaepernick ad sparks political controversy



Tree Demb, Multimedia Editor

“I cannot stand and sing the anthem.  I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”  – Jackie Robinson

Buried in the madness of the 49er’s comically bad 2016 season, as the national anthem rang through the stadium, Colin Kaepernick began to stay seated on the bench, losing his starting status at the quarterback position.  This was his own form of recognizing the issues of racism still prevalent in American society, and the resulting institutionalized violence. Kaepernick did end up kneeling on the sideline of the field, but that was not until later in his journey of protesting.  That key change was precipitated by an open letter from a man named Nate Boyer. Boyer was both an NFL player and a former Green Beret who had undergone multiple deployments.

Boyer wrote Kaepernick an open letter, neither against nor for his action, but explaining his mixed feelings about Kaepernick’s decision to not stand during the anthem. In return, Kaepernick invited Boyer for a discussion, and they exchanged ideas.  

The result of their talk became apparent the next time Kaepernick walked on the field with his team and knelt during the National Anthem in front of the eyes of the nation.  Reportedly, this was a middle ground that Kaepernick and Boyer came to, and was symbolic of the practice of taking a knee next to the grave of a fallen soldier.

The peacefully obtained common ground between soldier and activist was a model of progress through respectful dialogue, and a glowing example for the American public to follow.  The American public as a whole did not take Kaepernick’s choice to kneel without expressing their own mixed feelings. This, like every other political issue these days, was extremely polarizing and led to heated, aggressive argument.  The president himself weighed in, condemning the behavior of kneeling athletes. Trump voiced his thoughts on Sep. 13, 2017.

Kaepernick and the issues he knelt for became just another weapon among many thrown back and forth between conservative and liberal Americans as the two sides continued their mud fight.

The issue was trotted out occasionally for political benefit, but for the most part, the controversy was a warm-up act. The two sides have much better things to yell at each other these days.  

It was in this already turbulent American society that Nike, after making sure that its contract as the NFL’s supplier had more than a decade left in it, signed Kaepernick, a symbol of inequality (or indecency), police brutality (fake news), freedom of speech (disrespect of the USA), and hope (worry) for (of) a better (worse) tomorrow.  Nike made our man Kaepernick the face of their “Just Do It” campaign, putting his face front and center with the lines “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

If you think that a for-profit, multi-billion dollar corporation just made one of the most controversial moves in recent memory in an effort to make a moral stand and support Kaepernick, then you have not been paying attention. I applaud Nike for supporting Kaepernick in his mission, but that certainly does not mean I think that Nike executives got together and talked about the right thing to do. Nike has never been an activist entity; when Kobe Bryant settled his rape case, McDonald’s was quick to take a step away from the superstar, but Nike stuck around, and the retired Laker’s sneaker line is not only available but growing to this day. If Nike approved of this kind of marketing, it is because it was backed by millions of dollars of research, analysis, and public testing, and I would have to say that it is a really smart strategy.  

The 2016 presidential election and the events of the following terms are bound for the textbooks of tomorrow, and Nike is ensuring that their name will go down in the best of ways. It is worth mentioning that Nike was not the only one who understood the value of the opportunity.  

I am not saying Nike’s move is made wrong, or even meaningless, by the fact that their decision to sign Kaepernick was a profit-minded investment.  I’m just saying that the next time you’re browsing for a nice pair of kicks, make your decision based on how they feel, the price tag, and the color. Not the brand, and certainly not who the brand “supports”.  You make a real difference by donating it to charities like Kaepernick’s and others, but to be clear, “rockin’ that new pair of VaporMaxes” is not making a stand against police brutality, no matter how fresh they may be.