Nike Fuels Nationwide Debate


Cole Ablow

If you have been paying any attention to the NFL or the news you most likely have heard something about Nike’s new advertisement that features Colin Kaepernick. If you haven’t heard about it, or even if you have, here’s the breakdown.

   To fully understand this controversial topic you have to go back to 2016. This was the last time Colin Kaepernick was in the NFL. Kaepernick made national news by protesting during the national anthem. His way of protesting was by taking a knee while the national anthem played before each game. You might be asking, “what exactly was he protesting?” He was protesting against police brutality and racism within the United States. On one hand, his protest inspired a large portion of people and players; on the other hand, his protest outraged many people in and out of the NFL community.

   We have seen different forms of protest regarding police brutality and racism throughout the U.S., however, this particular protest caused exasperation from fans, politicians, and people around the country. So why was this protest different from others? This was because his protest took place during the national anthem. Kaepernick said that he didn’t want to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” After Kaepernick took a knee many players from around the League did the same. This became a major problem for the NFL. According to the Washington post, a study came out that found that NFL viewership decreased by 10 percent after the protests. Although they do say that all publicity is good publicity, this was not the case for NFL owners. Many fans around the country were infuriated with Kaepernick’s protest. This led to the NFL banning taking a knee during the national anthem. After the protests took place, NFL teams refused to sign Colin Kaepernick and his career came to a sudden end. So why is this topic relevant today? You can thank Nike for that.

Nike made national news when they put out their new ad campaign that had Colin Kaepernick speaking throughout the video and appearing at the end. The video features extraordinary athletes that have overcome many obstacles. One of the athletes featured in the video is  Isaiah Bird, a 10-year-old wrestler, who has lost both his legs. There also athletes who are more well known including Lebron James and Serena Williams. At the end of the video Colin Kaepernick is shown walking and the phrase, “It’s only crazy until you do it” is displayed.

Many people have different opinions on Nike’s new campaign. An NFL employee said that he, “Pretty much want[s] to burn [his] shoes.” The President also weighed in on the issue by saying that he felt the Kaepernick part of the campaign was conveying a “terrible message”. He later said that “In another way, it is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do, but I personally am on a different side of it.” The NFL is another group that cannot be happy about the Nike video. The NFL was hoping to finally put the protests behind them. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, said that “we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL.” Roger Goodell has made it clear that he is not a fan of the protests and this year released a statement requiring all players to, “stand and show respect for the flag.”  Finally, the kneeling stopped and the NFL was thrilled. However, after the Nike campaign came out there have been multiple players this season following in Colin’s footsteps and protesting during the national anthem.

Although Colin Kaepernick is completely protected by the first amendment of our constitution and has the right to say and protest whatever he would like, his protest seems to be drawing attention towards the wrong issue. Colin Kaepernick claimed that “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Of course, police brutality does affect people of color in the US; however, does it actually harm as many people as Kaepernick and the media says it does? So in 2016, according to the New York Post, there were 778 African Americans who were fatally shot by police, but what that statistic doesn’t account for is how many were unarmed and didn’t actually deserve to be shot. That number is 16. There were 16 unarmed African Americans who were fatally shot in 2016. To put that into perspective that only represents .00004 percent of the African American community. So how does that compare to the white community? According to the Washington Post, 18 unarmed white men were killed in 2016. The coverage of police brutality is mostly or always directly related to African Americans; however more unarmed white people were killed than African Americans in 2016.

Although there were more unarmed white people killed by police, the percentage (by population) of whites affected by police brutality is lower than the percentage of African Americans that were affected by police brutality. This is most likely the reason that the African American community feels more targeted by police. Even though it is a higher percentage, police brutality still only affects a very small percentage of the African American community.

So how could this be the most nationally covered topic when it comes to the struggles of the African American community? There is no denying that it is a problem, but is it possible that we should start focusing on the issues that have a more major effect? It seems to more logical to focus on the issues that affect a bigger percentage of the African American community, rather than hyper-focusing on an issue that only affected 16 out of 42 million African Americans in 2016. Kaepernick claims that it is dangerous to be an African American around the police; however, it is by far more dangerous to be a policeman. In fact, according to the New York Post, a policeman is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by an African American, than an African American is to be killed by a policeman. Although the narrative seems to be that cops, specifically white cops, are the ones mostly responsible for the killing African Americans, this is just not true. According to the New York Post, black on black crime makes up for the majority of the homicide in the black community. So why isn’t Colin Kaepernick protesting gang violence? And why is Nike making him the face of their new campaign?

A lot of people find the Nike ad to be just a marketing scheme, while others find it to be a sign of social progress. Nike’s stock did recently hit an all-time high and have received praise for their campaign; however, Nike is the opposite of a symbol of social change. The company has they have been using sweatshops to make their products since the 1970’s and purposely put their sweatshops in countries that did not allow workers unions. Whenever employees would try and get their very low wages increased Nike would shut down the factory and move to another location so they can continue taking advantage of workers. The average salary of a Nike sweatshop worker is $1.25 dollars a day. This is devastatingly low compared to the US federal minimum wage which is $7.25 dollars an hour. Although they have been subject to numerous accusations, after releasing their new campaign, they have been depicted as a socially aware and progressive company.

So does Nike really care about social change?  To give you the short version, no they don’t care about social justice nor Colin Kaepernick’s protests. Nike is a global multi-billion dollar company, that will use anyone in their campaigns if it means more money for Nike. It is up for debate what Nike’s tactics were when deciding to make Colin Kaepernick the face of their new campaign, but it seems that business-wise, it was the right decision.

In today’s world, we are constantly subject to various forms of media and news. For a company like Nike or a popular athlete like Colin Kaepernick, it is easy to obtain a platform for change. Both Nike and Colin Kaepernick have gained the attention of the world and now the only question is what they will now do with the attention they now have. Hopefully, Colin Kaepernick uses his platform in order to tackle some of the other issues that affect the African American community. His protests brought attention towards police brutality and racism in our society; however,  he should continue his journey by bringing attention towards more issues that drastically affect the African American community. Nike has the ability to give athletes a platform in which they can give their opinions and bring change in our world. So does Nike being involved in politics and national controversy end with their newest campaign, or is this just the beginning for Nike? They have the capability to spread awareness of various issues and I hope they continue giving individuals the ability to voice their concerns and opinions. Although you might not agree with Nike’s decision to make Colin Kaepernick the face of their campaign, or Colin Kaepernick’s protest, you must respect them. In the words of our president,  “it is what this country is all about.” What makes our country great is that we allow individuals the freedom to voice their opinions freely, and because of that, it allows for us to have these meaningful conversations and bring awareness towards various issues in our society.