Earlier this month, Nike made a bold and dangerous move towards being on the right side of history, a move that already looks like it will pay off.
Colin Kaepernick is a 30-year-old American quarterback, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, currently a free agent. In 2016, he took what was to become an iconic stand against racial violence and police brutality in America by first sitting, then kneeling for the playing of the U.S. national anthem. For this, Kaepernick faced incredible backlash, not only from NFL fans but from a great deal of the conservative American public. When it came time for his contract to end, the 49ers declined to renew it, and other teams refused to touch him despite his clear talent for the game. Fans even went so far as to burn their Kaepernick jerseys, merchandise they had already purchased and owned.
In a similar situation, some people have been burning and destroying their personal Nike items in protest of Nike’s choice to make Kaepernick one of the five ambassadors for the 30th anniversary of their iconic “just do it” campaign. On top of these fan outbursts, a Louisiana mayor even banned Nike products for a brief period. Ironically, the first showing of the ad aired at the NFL season opener.
This issue seems a little ridiculous when you stand back from the heat of it. However, we should be paying close attention to how this plays out because it’s one of the first times a large company has stood by an equal rights advocate while they were actively working towards change, and not after their message was widely accepted. Conservative news stations are reporting “massive backlash” from fans, but Nike’s stock prices have just reached an all-time high, curiously in opposition to what constitutes consumer backlash.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of reasons to dislike Nike. From child labour accusations to claims of underpaid workers, Nike has been in hot water for alleged human rights violations several times. Is this decision purely political on Nike’s part? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean it loses its strength as a meaningful campaign
Purely political moves made by companies and public figures have made all the difference in the evolution of human rights. From Marilyn Monroe’s active support of Ella Fitzgerald to JFK’s unfaltering contribution to the civil rights movement, moves that were, in retrospect, most likely purely political, have turned history on its nose. While Nike has made mistakes in the past, and even still continues to make them from time to time, they’re taking a step in the right direction, which is ultimately a good thing.
The people burning their sneakers and cutting up their gym socks are doing nothing but being hypocritical. If their love for America was everything they claim it to be, they would actively be trying to improve how people in their country are treated. Even if they don’t agree with Kaepernick’s message, there are other issues they could be investing their time and money in aside from literally burning shoes a homeless person would accept with open arms.
Nike was right to choose Kaepernick, taking into consideration the fact that the theme of the campaign is “dream crazy.” Perhaps in the not-so-distant future, his dream of ending police brutality will come to fruition. After all, it certainly is a dream worth fighting for.