By Ryan Trom ’19
Nike recently announced Colin Kaepernick as the lead for their latest “Just Do It” campaign. Former athletes featured in Nike’s campaign include Lebron James, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Maya Moore. With names like these, it’s clear that Nike has consistently had a reputation of being represented by the greatest athletes in the world.
Their latest campaign features a former NFL quarterback whose contract with the San Francisco 49ers expired following the 2017 season. That summer, no NFL teams signed Kaepernick, leaving him out of a job for the first time since his NFL debut in 2011. He represents a major change for Nike in that he is not a dominant force in the NFL or one of the great talents in sports.
The controversy around Kaepernick began in late August 2016 when he refused to stand for the national anthem, choosing to remain seated on the bench. Once this gained national attention, he began kneeling during the national anthem, and soon many other players were joining him in protest.
The Nike campaign is centered around his refusal to stand for the national anthem. Their main ad reads: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” and has a picture of Kaepernick’s face. Since the release of the ad on September 5, it has been shown on TV, been plastered on billboards and posters around the country and gone viral on the internet. When Kaepernick began this protest, he was the backup quarterback for the 49ers, and it was thought by many that he deserved more playing time. He believed so strongly in the message kneeling sent and continued to do so without playing, making it seem as though he sacrificed being a quarterback in the NFL and making millions of dollars a year to become a face for racial equality.
Many believe the reason Kaepernick is out of a job is that he felt so strongly about the issue. Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports said, “There are more than a few people people who believe Kaepernick’s contract is a grand NFL conspiracy – Kaepernick is being blackballed for his national anthem protests last season.” Spike Lee said this situation “smells mad fishy.”
When Kapernick was named as the face of Nike, there was a lot of speculation about what it would do to Nike’s sales. Everyone had an opinion about whether it would boost or diminish their sales, with people as high as President Trump chiming in. To share his opinion, he tweeted four simple words: “What was Nike thinking?” Other people believe that this choice by Nike is a genius business decision because it keeps them relevant.
Nike has been a face in sports for decades and while other brands like Adidas and Under Armour are becoming major competitors, this catapults Nike back to the forefront of sports branding news. This is a common tactic for Nike as they continuously have top notch ads including the Bo Jackson “Bo Knows,” Michael Jordan’s “Underdog” commercial and the “Find Your Greatness” ad to keep their brand relevant. However, this particular ad shows that Nike recognizes they represent more than just sports but also a cultural movement towards social equality. No matter people’s opinion on this, the fact remains that Nike’s sales increased 31 percent from this time last year.
The issue of racial equality is not going away any time soon, and Kaepernick will remain a face for it. From a business perspective, using Kaepernick is obviously working for Nike’s sales, so it seems that he will remain a major piece in their company moving forward. While rule changes and regulations regarding standing for the national anthem continue to make progress, the morality of it will remain in question. In week one of the NFL regular season, there were only two players on the Miami Dolphins who kneeled during the anthem, which is the lowest numbers have been since Kaepernick began protesting. That being said, the issue has not been solved, and it seems that Nike will remain at the forefront of this cause in the foreseeable future.