The Nike campaign and collusion hearing could make Colin Kaepernick wealthier and get Americans talking to each other. Through the Nike apparel company’s 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign, the nation can focus on real issues that divide us.
Nike executives’ decision to use Kaepernick this way can help reignite discussions about social and racial inequality. As a nation, most are far away from what the campaign was actually about. Like so much in America when you’re dealing with issues that are about race, message gets lost.
American controversy does two things well: divide people and generate revenue. In 2016 as quarterback for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016, Kaepernick became known for protesting injustice toward Blacks by choosing to kneel on one knee rather than stand while the national anthem was being played. That act ignited a firestorm of negative responses including calls for protesting players to be fired, fans leaving the stadium immediately after protests and boycotts of the league altogether.
Kaepernick has become a worldwide symbol for the aggrieved. In November, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL and its owners, accusing them of colluding to not hire him. This year, Amnesty International awarded Kaepernick with their Ambassador of Conscience award, and he is set to receive Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois medal “in recognition of contributions to African and African American culture and life.”
Nike should be praised for the ads. One Wall Street analyst called the move “genius” and a “sign of strength.”
“We believe Nike’s ad campaign was a stroke of genius,” wrote analyst Camilo Lyon to Wall Street clients.
His reasoning is that the campaign “struck an emotional chord with people that incited a conversation.” Plus, he deems it “courageous” that Nike took a stance on a social issue, and said it spoke to Nike customers “in a way that shows it understands them and issues that matter to them.”
Lastly, the ad campaign strengthened ties with Nike-sponsored athletes. “To us, this premeditated move was a subtle but significant sign of Nike’s strength and confidence in its position in the marketplace,” Lyon wrote.
The Nike apparel, footwear and sports equipment company is estimated to earn over $36 billion in 2018. Some members of the mainstream tweeted images of Nike shoes being burned, while others praised the brand for supporting Kaepernick’s protests against racial injustice. In addition, Nike signed Kaepernick to a new multiyear endorsement deal.
It’s time to see Nike in a better light. Even within the brand’s most loyal group — existing Nike customers — their favorability declined. Among Democrats, Nike favorability slid to 65 percent from 74 percent, and among African Americans, the rating dipped to 74 percent. Nike’s favorability among millennials also dropped.
Yet, high-profile athletes and celebrities have spoken out in support of Nike and Kaepernick, including tennis star Serena Williams and Kanye West, an endorser of Nike rival Adidas: “Adidas giving me a voice and Nike giving Colin voice on a big business level makes the world a more advanced place.”
Nike made $15 billion in 2017. The company has a partnership with the NFL that will run through 2028, providing teams with game-day uniforms and apparel. We congratulate Nike for investing in and celebrating Black America.
This issue continues to divide fans and vex owners. But let’s support Nike’s actions to believe in something, “even if it means sacrificing everything.”
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.