Nike stirred controversy across the nation as supporters and protestors evaluated the impact of an advertisement centering on athlete Colin Kaepernick’s face.
The National Football League is one of the world’s biggest stages. Even though he has not played a game since 2016, the name Kaepernick is still rolling off the tongues of players, owners and fans alike. Kaepernick, known for his protests in the NFL during the United States national anthem, played his last game on Jan. 1, 2016; however, players around the NFL joined him in kneeling during the anthem while he still played the sport. After severe backlash from fans, many owners, and even President Donald Trump, many called for the kneeling during the anthem to stop.
Luke Lampton, sophomore at John Brown University, said, “I don’t really understand his platform for protest. The guy was raised in a rich suburb. He was getting paid millions by the NFL, and now Nike is paying him millions. I don’t really see how he relates to his cause.”
Even after Kaepernick left the league, his protests continued, and the NFL felt like they had to address it. On May 23, 2018, the owners of the NFL stated that “All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. . .Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room.”
The new Anthem policy was met with disdain from both sides. Those for kneeling felt measures against the protest violated First Amendment rights, while those against felt allowing the protest in any form was disrespectful to the flag.
The majority of players who were actively participating in the protests felt the policy was unconstitutional. Malcom Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles said in a statement, “What NFL owners did today was thwart the players’ constitutional rights to express themselves and use our platform to draw attention to social injustices like racial inequality in our country.”
Other players, such as Jurrell Casey of the Tennessee Titans, said penalty fines for protesting anyway would not stop them. “I’m going to take a fine this year, why not? I’m going to protest during the flag.”
Because of the responses from both sides, the NFL tabled the policy until they agreed on a compromise. Since the start of the 2018 NFL season, there have been fewer protests, but players are still participating. In week one, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson of the Miami Dolphins both kneeled. In an interview with ESPN, Stills said, “We started the protest two, three years ago now, and we’re not going anywhere. Activism isn’t something you just kind of get involved in and then turn your back on.”
After the anthem controversy started to die down, Nike made an announcement that brought Kaepernick back in the spotlight. On Sept. 3, 2018, Kaepernick tweeted a picture of his face behind the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The controversial quarterback was now the face one of the largest sportswear producer in the world. The announcement was met with support from some and a boycott from others.
One boycott that made headlines is that of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri. After Nike released the Kaepernick ad, College of the Ozarks, which used Nike uniforms in all of its athletic teams, released a statement saying, “In their new ad campaign, we believe Nike executives are promoting an attitude of division and disrespect toward America. If Nike is ashamed of America, we are ashamed of them.”
Others tweeted pictures of themselves throwing away Nike products, cutting off Nike “swooshes” from socks, and even videos of them burning their Nike sneakers. Even the President tweeted on Sept. 7, “What was Nike thinking?” as well as, “Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way.”
However, according to CBS news, “Nike shares have surged 36 percent on the year … The run-up includes a nearly 5 percent increase since Nike’s Labor Day announcement that Kaepernick would be featured in its campaign, adding nearly $6 billion to the company’s market value.” According to the report, Nike stock rose to $83.90 on Sept. 14, the highest it’s been in 2018.
Harrison Kretzer, a business major at JBU, said “This campaign is genius. One of the most polarizing figures in all of sports and even outside of sports get a sponsorship deal with Nike. It’s risky, and they calculated their cost, but it’s paying off.”
When asked about Nike’s campaign, Lampton said, “I don’t support Kaepernick’s protest, but what Nike’s doing is pretty incredible. To take one of the most controversial guys in the U.S. and make him the face of your campaign takes guts, but for now it seems like it’s paying off.”
The NFL continues to deal with the anthem protests, but Nike used this advertisement to bolster excitement and brand loyalty. According to the New York Post, Nike has sold out 61 percent more merchandise since releasing Kaepernick’s ad. Whether it’s in the NFL or as advertising face of one of the world’s biggest apparel producers, Kaepernick is making waves.