By, Samantha C. ’19
Colin Kaepernick. What comes to mind when you hear this name? A heroic leader in the fight for racial equality? A man who disrespected the American flag? A martyr in the name of racial injustice? A few years ago, you might have simply associated this name with the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers or, if you shared my limited knowledge about football, you might not have made any associations at all. However, after kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, Colin Kaepernick became a name that symbolizes the racial tensions in America. In light of recent cases of police brutality, Kaepernick told NFL Media during an interview, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” Although many Americans supported his cause and some athletes even joined him in kneeling, many members of the general public saw Kaepernick’s actions as a sign of disrespect towards American veterans and believed the NFL was the wrong platform for his protests. After the 2016 season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers to become a free agent and remained unsigned during the off-season and 2017 training camps. Given the recent controversy over his kneeling, Kaepernick accused the NFL coaches of colluding not to hire him.
Despite remaining unsigned with an NFL team for over a year, Kaepernick has recently signed a deal with a different team: Nike. On September 3rd, Kaepernick became the face of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign for its 30th anniversary. The Nike advertisement features a photo of Kaepernick behind the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” These words, which indirectly allude to Kaepernick’s inability to get signed and the “sacrifice” of his professional career after kneeling, indicate Nike’s support of his actions. However, building on earlier opposition to the kneeling movement, many people had negative reactions to the campaign. #NikeBoycott quickly became one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter, with people showing their disapproval by boycotting the company’s products and even burning Nike sneakers. However, despite the adverse reactions to the campaign, Nike’s stock prices dramatically rose soon after the advertisement was released. The campaign’s economic success indicates that, even though many people opposed Nike’s decision to back Kaepernick, there were many others (maybe even more) who supported the campaign. “The Just Do It campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick is truly incredible,” stated Araybia G. ’19 after attending the W.E.B. Dubois Award Ceremony which honored Kaepernick for his activism. “I have looked up to Kaepernick for a long time, and it was amazing seeing his sacrifice and his courage to kneel down for an important cause not only acknowledge but also celebrated,” she continued. “He has touched a lot of people, including myself.”
Ultimately, the recent events with Nike have refocused a spotlight on the controversy over whether kneeling during the national anthem should be celebrated or condemned. The campaign has illuminated and perhaps even intensified the polarization of social views held by different people in this country.
However, Nike’s campaign has not only raised awareness about the problems in this country (which is a vital first step in engendering constructive change), but it has also nationally broadcasted the positive message that fighting for a cause is worth taking risks, even if there are repercussions. Perhaps, Nike’s tagline about “sacrificing everything” not only pertains to Kaepernick, but also to the company itself and its decision to back a controversial cause. In both cases, it seems that the risks have been worth it in the end.