In a move that will likely infuriate president Trump, and/or lead to a sharp decline in Air Max sales, on Monday afternoon Nike and Colin Kaepernick unveiled a new ad campaign featuring the controversial former NFL quarterback as part of the company’s 30th anniversary "Just Do It" ad campaign.
The image, which Kaepernick tweeted out, shows a black-and-white closeup of the quarterback’s face and the words, “Believe in something. Even it if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”
According to ESPN, Kaepernick - who is suing NFL owners for allegedly colluding to keep him out of the league - is one of the faces of a new Nike campaign meant to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the brand's iconic "Just Do It" motto. It also adds that while Nike signed Kaepernick in 2011 and kept him on its endorsement roster over the years, the company had not used him in the past two years.
“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Nike V.P. of brand in North America Gino Fisanotti told ESPN.
Perhaps, but for now Kaepernick is entering a second NFL season without a team and has an active collusion grievance against the NFL. That case cleared a hurdle last week with the league’s request to dismiss the grievance was rejected. A trial hearing that requires testimony from NFL owners could happen at some point in the future.
“We wanted to energize its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes,” Fisanotti told ESPN.
Kaepernick became a household name in August of 2016 when he began kneeling in what he said was protest of racial injustice during the national anthem, provoking a major backlash by the president, and eventually NFL fans. The protests during the national anthem, soon embraced by other players too, raised the ire of some NFL fans and U.S. President Donald Trump. The result was a steep dropoff in NFL viewership in 2017.
In response, Trump said the players disrespected the American flag and the military, and he has said he would love to see NFL owners fire football players who disrespected the American flag.
As Reuters notes, Kaepernick and another former 49ers player, Eric Reid, have not been signed by any of the NFL’s 32 teams since their protests spread around the league. Both have filed collusion grievances against NFL owners.
With news of Nike’s ad campaign breaking just days before the first game of the NFL season on Thursday, the controversy over pre-game protests could flare anew.
Predictably, responses on social media ranged from one extreme of the gamut to the other.
"Nike has always been and will continue to be my family’s favorite shoe," wrote Twitter user @TheDionneMama, while @jimispr said "I'm a United States Navy Veteran. I gave up my freedom, left my family and fought for this nation. I fought so Mr. Kaepernick could protest anyway he chooses. He isn't hurting anyone nor is he inciting violence. Let him be."
Others were not quite so happy. “Time to throw away all my Nike crap," wrote @SportDuh 17; "Nike will never see a dollar of mine again. Let's see how long they survive now" said user @TheyCallMeAzul.
Others were even more graphic:
Setting half their lawn on fire while burning Nike shoes pic.twitter.com/rDqGGARzj0— Things White Folks Like (@Things4WhitePpl) September 4, 2018
Even Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, commented from Tehran, saying "The #NFL season will start this week, unfortunately once again @Kaepernick7 is not on a NFL roster. Even though he is one of the best Quarterbacks in the league."
We now await Trump's inevitable reaction.
As for Nike, if the public backlash against other corporate brand names who have taken a vocal political stance is any indication, the company is making a gamble: companies from Dick's (which saw a sharp decline in sales after it stopped selling guns), to ESPN, to Papa John's, to Twitter and Facebook, to In-N-Out burger, have all seen an angry customer backlash - from either the left or the right - once these corporations entered the political arena, resulting in a hit to the top line, and ultimately, the shareholders' pocket.