It’s rare for a national company selling consumer products to take a stand on a controversial political issue. Generally, they would remain neutral, fearing that taking a political position would hurt sales with the consumers that support the opposing position.
Nike boldly ignored that conventional advertising rule by making the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick the voice and face of their latest “Just Do It” commercial.
In August 2016, Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem and chose to kneel to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Kaepernick was blacklisted by the NFL for leading the “take a knee” protest during the playing of the pregame national anthem. No NFL team has been willing to sign him since, even though his stats are considerably better than others they have recruited.
By describing Kaepernick’s action as inspirational in the commercial, Nike is courageously raising the stakes in the controversy over the anthem protests. They appear to be directly challenging Trump by transforming the conversation from Kaepernick as protester, to Kaepernick as civil rights warrior.
Nike’s North America vice-president for brand marketing Gino Fisanottin told ESPN, “We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.” With its new ad, Nike has thrust Kaepernick – and the professional sacrifice he made for his political beliefs – back into the center of football and broader political conversation.
Kaepernick is living the words he uses in the commercial. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, good. Stay that way,” Kaepernick says. “Because what nonbelievers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult; it’s a compliment. Don’t try to be the fastest runner in your school, or the fastest in the world. Be the fastest, ever, so don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.”
Nike’s commercial lit up Trump and his supporters immediately. Trump’s supporters have been protesting the commercial by publicly burning Nike products and calling for a boycott of their brands. Trump, who has demanded that NFL owners fire any “son of a bitch” who didn’t stand for the anthem, quickly joined in the Nike bashing on Twitter.
Trump falsely claimed Nike was absolutely getting killed with angry boycotts. FOX News talking head Tucker Carlson warned that society would “fall apart” by Nike’s endorsement of Kaepernick.
Once again, Trump and Fox News are spouting fake alternative facts. Nike saw a 31% increase in sales compared to the same Labor Day period last year.
This isn’t the first time Nike has used their “Just Do It” campaign as a national media bullhorn to change the conversation. In 1995 Nike used “Just Do It” to focus attention on women’s rights in athletics with its “If You Let Me Play” ad. Also in 1995, Nike featured Ric Munoz, a Los Angeles marathon runner, who was HIV positive.
Some have said Kaepernick has become the most important NFL player not in the NFL. Likely the Nike ad will not only embolden more NFL protest, but hopefully widen the conversation about police profiling and their treatment of minority communities.
Last month in Des Moines, two young black men were stopped for no apparent reason. Their treatment by the Des Moines police was captured on video and has raised serious questions about the behavior of one of the officers. That stop has resulted in a lawsuit alleging a violation of the young black men’s civil rights.
Owing to the unending civil rights lawsuits filed against police, this is an essential conversation every community must engage in honestly and factually. Kneeling before the flag and asking America to live up to the ideals we repeat in the pledge seems more appropriate than ever.
Nike should be congratulated for elevating the conversation by recognizing Colin Kaepernick as an inspirational civil rights activist.
by Rick Smith