The opening of the NFL season last week was overshadowed by a marketing decision that has been alternately praised and criticized. Nike Corporation decided to make Colin Kaepernick the focal point (though not the only part) of its latest “Just Do It” campaign, emphasizing the fact he was willing to sacrifice his career and then comparing him to other noted athletes who’ve paid the price for their decision. Interestingly, the way some people have responded, they act as though somehow Nike just pulled this out of the air, while some others lauding the company are overlooking some key facts regarding their past relationship with Kaepernick.
First, Nike has partnered with Kaepernick since 2011. They resisted calls to sever their ties when he was kneeling before the anthem each week while a member of the 49ers, and they still have no intention of doing so. That they chose the 30th anniversary of the company’s most prominent ad campaign to reaffirm their backing of Kaepernick says a lot for what they think of him as a potential money maker.
Because no one should kid themselves that this is some sort of grand moral or philanthropic gesture. Nike’s practices overseas have been highlighted everywhere from the BBC to the Guardian, as well as several major mainstream newspapers, magazines and websites. They pay disgracefully low wages to foreign workers, operate production plants that are (at best) low level sweat shops, and have done very little to rectify these abuses despite the fact they’ve been cited for them on numerous occasions.
Certainly their support of Kaepernick is commendable. In addition, it’s revealing that reactionaries everywhere are so outraged by this campaign that they’re doing ridiculous things like burning Nike merchandise. One small college has even revoked its Nike contract, while other prominent celebrity types like country singer John Rich have been equally vocal in their criticism. President Trump has also weighed in as usual, claiming that this move has cost Nike dearly and is hurting them.
Whether you believe this or not depends on whose accounts you believe. There were initial reports of Nike stock dropping a few points on the first day of the decision, but then it rose again the next day. More importantly, various business publications like Business Insider have cited an online sales jump of over 30 percent and millions in fresh revenue generated by the decision.
The move also put the NFL, which is now in court and being sued by Kaepernick over alleged collusion, in a funny place. NIke also supplies uniforms to a variety of professional sports teams, including every NFL franchise. So, despite the fact they’re in legal conflict, the league found itself having to defend Kaepernick and did so with this rather generic statement: “The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity,” NFL executive vice president of communications and public affairs Jocelyn Moore said Tuesday in a statement. “We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities. The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”
Of course, looming in the background, remains the issue of NFL players protesting the anthem, and the President’s continual claim that the protests are disrespecting the flag and veterans, even though a number of veterans are backing Kaepernick and saying they understand what he’s doing. Now even some of the owners are weary of Trump’s ignorant rhetoric and have spoken out against him, while also trying to reach a consensus with the players.
But for now, Nike is enjoying a publicity bonanza, something the shoe burners are only making even bigger with their silly theatrics.