Over the long weekend, Nike released their latest #JustDoIt ad campaign featuring the highly controversial and politicized former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In the clearly politically charged ad, a black and white photo of Kaepernick’s face is overlayed with the text, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
The messaging is an overt reference to Kaepernick’s kneeling protest during the American national anthem ahead of NFL games in 2016 which may have led to him not being signed by any teams the following season. The original protest was to call attention to police brutality and racial inequalities in the justice system by making the statement that the “freedoms” in America are not afforded to the population equally. Since then, other NFL players have adopted the same protest, but it has also sparked a larger debate among Americans — some of whom claim that the gesture is disrespectful to the flag and those who protect it (i.e. the military and veterans).
Nike’s endorsement of the athlete is a big one, on par with the most famous currently active players — including a whole array of merchandise like branded shoes, shirts and jerseys. The deal is hugely significant because Kaepernick has been unsigned by an NFL team since he hit free agency in March 2017 (for various reasons that never explicitly cite his protests).
Athletes, celebrities and activists alike voiced their support for the new ad campaign.
You deserve everything. Thank you for being brave.
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) September 3, 2018
I’m just here to remind folks that last year Colin Kaepernick was in the top 50 in NFL jersey sales, despite not being on a roster. Nike made a business move.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 3, 2018
Colin Kaepernick drew our collective attention to the problem of continued racial injustice in America. He did so not to disrespect our flag but to give meaning to the words of the preamble of our Constitution—“in order to form a more perfect union.” Well done, Colin, well done. https://t.co/4ALyUxLjM5
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) September 4, 2018
Amid the support for the campaign, there has also — ironically — been vocal and sometimes violent protests against it. Opponents of Kaepernick and the “take a knee” movement have called for a Nike boycott and are throwing away their Nike merchandise. In some cases, people are even cutting up or burning their branded shoes and clothing.
— John Rich (@johnrich) September 3, 2018
First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive? pic.twitter.com/4CVQdTHUH4
— Sean Clancy (@sclancy79) September 3, 2018
this is the funniest picture homie really put on his nike shorts to cut off the symbol LMAO pic.twitter.com/VGv7MtVpGv
— Duck (@DuckFanAccount) September 4, 2018
On Tuesday, critics remarked that Nike stock had taken a dip in value since the release of the campaign images and attributed it to the resulting Nike boycott. That was quickly debunked by NFL journalist Charles Robinson who pointed out that the fall in stock value of Nike as well as Puma and Adidas are all due to NAFTA uncertainty, not Nike’s alignment with Kaepernick.
For tweets suggesting #Nike stock is down over 2-percent today due to the Colin Kaepernick endorsement, here’s the ticker for #Adidas and #Puma. Both also down over 2-percent today. Neither signed Kaepernick. It’s a broad-based NAFTA-related dip, folks. Not Kaepernick. #Context. pic.twitter.com/UchRSlGIAT
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 4, 2018
The release of the Nike campaign comes shortly after another Kaepernick win — his lawsuit against the NFL will have a full hearing. Kaepernick has accused the National Football League of colluding to keep him off the field because of his protests and last week a judge ruled that Kaepernick’s lawyers have provided enough information to warrant a hearing.
As a veteran, first let me say that I served so that you have the freedom to protest Nike. Second, I served so that Kaepernick and others can #TakeAKnee. Third, please consider actually helping a veteran, and donate any of that Nike gear you plan to dispose of in protest.
— George Capen #exGOP (@george_capen) September 4, 2018
Kaepernik may be out of the NFL for the time being, but he’s making the most of his time off. He’s thrown himself into activism, donating one million dollars to various charities, receiving the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award (from none other than Beyoncé) and appearing as GQ‘s 2017 Citizen of the Year.