When Nike chose to include Colin Kaepernick in its 30th anniversary ad campaign of its “Just Do It” slogan, Twitter exploded (along with the heads of those in the anti-Kaepernick camp). I, however, had trouble making up my mind about Nike’s motivations for including the very controversial Kaepernick in their campaign.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick – then a 49ers quarterback – started kneeling during the national anthem at his football games as a way to protest the murders of young, unarmed black Americans at the hands of police. Although his protest was peaceful, it sparked a heated nationwide debate about the appropriateness of kneeling during the anthem. Since then, Kaepernick has essentially been blacklisted by the NFL and has devoted most of his efforts to social justice causes.
When the news about Kaepernick’s role in the “Just Do It” campaign spread, angry consumers started (predictably) destroying their Nike gear and posting pictures to social media. As a result of the outrage, Bloomberg reported that Nike shares slipped as much as 3.9 percent, and the hashtag #BoycottNike began trending on Twitter.
Upon hearing that Kaepernick was going to be included in Nike’s ad campaign, I was mostly elated for Kaepernick, whose football career has suffered immensely because of his peaceful and patriotic protests.
However, the cynical side of me couldn’t help but wonder what Nike had to gain from openly supporting such a polarizing figure. Was this just for publicity, or does Nike actually support the Black Lives Matter movement? Was Nike trying to capitalize off of Kaepernick’s activism? Can Nike really care about social justice in the US when less than 20 years ago the company was embroiled in scandal regarding the poor working conditions in its factories abroad? Can a company that once exploited its own workers in Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand claim to support the plight of minority groups in the US?
I don’t think I’ve come to a definitive answer on any of these questions. I can acknowledge, however, that Nike took a significant risk by including Kaepernick in its ad campaign. In the process, Nike is sending a powerful message of hope and support to communities of color that are affected by police violence.
Ultimately, the commercial narrated by Kaepernick is inspiring. It’s about the importance of having big dreams and believing in something, “even if it means sacrificing everything.” The commercial also features footage of Serena Williams, described as “a girl from Compton,” who grew up to be the best athlete ever. The story of Alphonso Davies is also brilliantly highlighted in the ad, while Kaepernick narrates, “If you’re born a refugee, don’t let it stop you from playing soccer for the national team…at age 16.”
In our highly politicized climate, the political undertones of the ad are even more resounding. I doubt Nike was surprised by the public’s reaction to the ad campaign. It’s heartening, though, to see Nike take a public stance on Kaepernick at a time when this could prove to be devastating to their brand. Nike isn’t perfect and it’s easy to be cynical about its motives, but for now I’ll hold my breath and hope that their support for Kaepernick came from a genuine place.
Alexandra Diaz is a senior majoring in political science and women’s and gender studies.