Nike Takes On Kaepernick
“What was Nike Thinking?” – Donald Trump
Labor Day was last Monday, and grilling with friends was surprisingly not the most eventful moment of the holiday. If you were anywhere on the face of the planet, you already know that Nike released an ad featuring a photo of Colin Kaepernick with the inscription: “Believe in something. Even it means sacrificing everything.”
That day and subsequent days that followed rained with a hailstorm of social media comments, either cheering on Nike’s big move or completely trashing it. However, why is this a big move? With the NFL currently going through a trial due to allegations of collusion, resulting from Kaepernick’s famous kneel during the national anthem at the 49er’s preseason game, Nike’s decision may suggest where their alliance lies.
Nonetheless, the purpose of the kneel was just that—a statement of protest to the American flag that Kaepernick and many other Americans felt didn’t symbolize freedom or equality for all people; especially with the wake of police shootings that plagued the news headlines seemingly once a week.
Once the NFL got decisive about their players’ choice to exercise their first amendment right by penalizing kneeling (as many players and even whole teams did), many felt that the NFL was turning its back on their own players, while conservatives cheered in agreement. It was from that moment that fans and followers began spewing radical decisions about Kaepernick’s decision being “anti-American,” or not.
Amidst all the controversy, Nike took it a step further by choosing Kaepernick to headline their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” commercial on Thursday, September 6, 2018, during the season-opening Eagles v. Falcons game. Not only did this decision get more feathers ruffled by conservative Americans (and NFL fans), it showed Nike taking a not-so-subtle nail to the coffin on their decision to support Kaepernick’s stance.
However, let’s look at the history…In 2016, America was exiting the heels of the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and Sandra Bland, spanning from 2014-2015. Then, came the police-involved deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in 2016. Americans, especially Black Americans, were numb to the constant headlines displaying deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police officers.
Kaep’s decision back in 2016 to “take a knee” was a direct response to this jaded sentiment felt by many of his fans and his own community. The silent protest of sitting during the anthem to finally taking a knee led to comments, such as “unpatriotic” and “anti-White.”
Kaepernick’s response was simple, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.”
So, here we are two years later with one of one of the biggest brands in the world taking a semipolitical stance in support of his decision, which has resulted in his free-agency decision in 2017 (although the 49ers had planned to let him go), and the NFL banning players from on-field kneeling.
…But how dirty did Nike get their hands?
Supposedly, Nike made a decision that potentially alienated all of its “Make America Great Again” customers. Furthering the fear that in a time where racial tensions are flying high, it seems that our country is wedged between two opposing viewpoints:
#blacklivesmatter and #makeamericagreatagain
We can clearly see where Nike placed itself on the spectrum without directly waving a “pro-Kaep” flag—Nike so eloquently made sure their ad campaign was inclusive enough to not suggests they were swaying to one side or another—but they also showed that they are down with the cause.
Media outlets scrambled to share the news that Nike stock shares fell 3.2%, equaling out to $4 billion dollars in losses within a 24-hour period. If that wasn’t enough, the hashtag #boycottnike on Tuesday displayed numerous former Nike consumers burning off their Swoosh in protest.
Their Kaepernick ad was almost a metaphor for their stance of “believing in something” because they knew they could “lose everything,” but was that reality?
Statistically speaking, with the most of the data living in some secret vault in Narnia, Nike’s largest demographic group of customers are minorities. Back in ’92, the Los Angeles Times reported that Nike’s newest target was Black families; nearly 14% Black Americans making up their consumer base. With their customers being disproportionately minorities, one can conclude that their consumers are not wealthy Trump supporters.
The projected nosedive for the brand is the exact opposite of what actually happened. Instead, Nike increased online sales by 31% over the course of a week since the first ad went live. Also, within 24 hours, the brand created $43 million dollars in media exposure, and the drop in shares from Tuesday picked back up to $80.30 a share by Friday. With these numbers, it’s fair to conclude Nike knew they wouldn’t lose in this battle.
Yet, is it fair to say that the Black Lives Matter movement is not on the winning end? When we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we have a few facts to play with: Nike’s boost in revenue, the positive support for Kaepernick’s stance, and the big “F you” that’s being thrown at the NFL (and Trump). Still with all the money Nike is bringing in from the controversy, how much of this money will go back into the movement?
At the core of Kaepernick’s protest was an outcry. With Nike showing its support and many Americans showing its distaste, one of the biggest questions is how the brand will use all of that revenue? Will the brand push their support even further by turning into a pseudosocial enterprise and funneling some of that money back into protecting African-American communities?
At the end of the day, Nike made a bold statement. They chose to tell the NFL indirectly that they don’t stand behind their lack of support for Kaepernick’s choice to exercise his first amendment right to use his freedom of expression/speech. Some may even conclude that Nike is indirectly saying that they support an end to police brutality, or that they think the American flag is a complete contradiction. It’s all being left for interpretation at this point, which is what Nike may be trying to do.
Nike’s most significant result from all of this is to tell minorities and other marginalized groups “we hear you” in the midst of this racial-political climate right now.
The burnings and the protests are a little 1960s-esque. The Mayor of Louisiana has gone as far as banning the purchase of Nike products by clubs at all recreation facilities. Conservatives are burning their shoes and cutting up their socks in an outcry, and disowning the brand in its entirety. If we existed in an alternate universe, it might be fair to compare Nike Swoosh burnings to crosses and Nike’s campaign to a protest march.
Since just last week, there was yet another killing at the hands of a police officer of a man in his own apartment. Therefore, the ad is not only timely, but makes an even bigger statement then maybe Nike intended.
However, we don’t need to get that deep because the truth still remains:
Our president is pissed, per usual…
Folks are burning their shoes (while on)…
And minorities, Nike’s biggest consumer, are wondering what’s next?
— Charmaine Griffin