By Jason Breslow
Posted September 6th 2018
With his decision two summers ago to not stand for the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick became the face of a protest movement in the NFL against racial injustice and police brutality. Now, the former quarterback has become a face of one of the most iconic advertising campaigns in the history of sports: Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.
An early image from the campaign made its debut on Monday with a tweet from Kaepernick. The advertisement shows a black-and-white image of the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. The text on top of the image reads: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
As part of the campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It,” Nike will produce new Kaepernick apparel, including a shoe and a T-shirt, according to The New York Times. Nike, which supplies game-day uniforms and sideline apparel for the league’s 32 teams, will also donate to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign, according to the Times.
News of Kaepernick’s role in the campaign comes at a delicate moment for the NFL. With the 2018 regular season set to begin on Thursday, the league and its players union remain locked in a stalemate over a controversial national anthem policy ratified by team owners in May. The policy gave players the option to stay in the locker room during the anthem, but required them to stand if on the field or face possible discipline by their teams.
The policy was put on hold in July, leaving the NFL without a resolution to what’s become one of the most polarizing issues in sports. The player protests have drawn frequent criticism from President Trump, who in a speech last September said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now?’ ”
Justin Tinsley, a journalist for ESPN’s The Undefeated, told NPR’s Morning Edition that some NFL fans may object to Nike’s seeming endorsement of Kaepernick and his message, but it will likely have a minimal financial impact on the company, which has a global appeal far beyond American football.
“You might see people burning their [Nike] shoes on social media but it’s nothing that [they] need to be concerned about from a widespread angle,” Tinsley said.
He added that in appearing to support Kaepernick’s fight — whether motivated by financial self-interest or genuine altruism — “it helps build trust between Nike and the communities that buy their product.”
In an interview shortly after his protest began, Kaepernick told NFL media, “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since parting ways with the 49ers at the end of the 2016 season. He alleges that the NFL colluded to deny him a contract as punishment for his role in the player protests. Last week, an arbitrator ruled that his grievance against the league merits a formal hearing.
The NFL has yet to issue a response to the ad campaign, but some in the league have said they believe the protests have damaged the popularity of professional football. Nike, for its part, has previously said that it “supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society.”
That is a strategy that Tinsley said has paid off well for the company in this current era of sports activism. He noted, in addition to Kaepernick, who first inked a deal with Nike in 2011, it also has launched hugely successful lines with Serena Williams and LeBron James, who are both vocal advocates of social justice causes.
“That goes a long way with the legacy of a company,” Tinsley said.