Two years after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem and inspired a wave of protests against police brutality, Nike has named Kaepernick the new face of their “Just Do It” campaign.
The ad campaign features the tagline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” likely alluding to the fact that Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality ultimately cost him his career as an NFL quarterback.
The move makes sense for Nike’s brand. Kaepernick has become something of an anti-Trump icon within the sports community — the face of a movement against police brutality and a target for those who feel sports and politics should be kept separate worlds. Nike has a lot to gain from supporting Kaepernick. They snag an iconic figure, after the issue he stands for has cooled slightly.
Nike’s marketing decision to publicly support Kaepernick is brave given how polarizing the issue of police brutality will always be in American politics. With former fans burning hundreds of dollars of gear and ripping the Nike logos off of their socks, and with backlash from the president himself — on Tuesday, Trump said the campaign delivers a “terrible message” — it’s important that they haven’t pulled back.
However, waiting two years after Kaepernick first took a knee — after NFL player protests no longer make headlines and police brutality is no longer at the forefront of American consciousness — is a disappointment from a corporation that could have used its voice when the issue was hot.
Though Nike hasn’t named Kaepernick the face of their campaign until now, he’s been sitting on their endorsement roster since 2011, and he hasn’t been used in the past two years. ESPN Sports Analyst Darren Rovell tweeted Monday that Nike has been paying Kaepernick “all along,” waiting “for the right moment” since they signed him in 2011. Why hasn’t the right moment come until now?
When a string of players across the NFL first began to follow Kaepernick’s example, Trump condemned the act of resistance, tweeting that kneeling was “not acceptable.” The NFL, fearing damage to their brand, said teams would be fined if their players took a knee during the anthem.
The campaign has been released, coincidentally, just as NFL owners have approved a new national anthem policy requiring players to stand during the national anthem if they are on the field. Players are allowed to remain in the locker room, but if they kneel or sit on the field, their team will be fined. In summary: players can protest behind the curtain, but anything that can be broadcast on television and threaten the popularity of the sport is off limits.
Sports and politics are two, incredibly central parts of American life that cannot be separated. The corporation is doing a service in giving a political figure a platform when the NFL has abandoned him. Kaepernick uses his voice for justice, not for attention or personal profit. Whether or not you believe Nike’s intentions are pure, Kaepernick will put the platform to use.
Regardless of intention, Nike has been putting their money where their mouth is, donating to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights Camp” campaign. And at the end of the day, runners need running shoes. If they truly like the Nike brand, they’ll forget about their qualms with Kaepernick in a month.
When Kaepernick first took a knee, his critics told him that he wasn’t “doing enough” to protest police brutality — that kneeling silently for a few minutes wouldn’t change anything. However, Kaepernick has spurred a national movement and drawn lasting attention to racial injustice. That he is the new face of one of America’s most prominent brands speaks to the impact a small act of resistance can have.