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Behind the Kaepernick Controversy

Colin Kaepernick's ad with Nike — 'Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.' The new Nike ad was met with controversy including people burning their shoes and ripping the Nike logo from their socks. PHOTO/ Nike

By Austin Santiago

Published: September 12th, 2018

Athletic apparel company Nike was the cause of a media firestorm over Labor Day weekend. In an effort to promote their “Just do it” campaign, the multi-million-dollar company used former NFL quarterback turned activist Colin Kaepernick as the face of their advertising. The slogan of Kaepernicks’ ad is a message of determination, stating: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Kaepernick is no stranger to controversy or outrage on social media. In August of 2016, Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem before an NFL preseason game, two years later, the NFL enacted a policy banning that act. Though Kaepernick is not the only athlete featured in this campaign (others include Serena Williams, and Odell Beckham JR), it was Kaepernicks’ presence that seems to have parked a negative reaction towards the company.  All over social media, those who do not agree with the company’s decision could be seen posting videos and pictures of them destroying Nike merchandise.

“These shoes are in good condition, but thanks to your Kaepernick ad, I will never wear them or any Nike product again,” is just one of the comments people are making. Only a few days removed from the announcement, the fallout can be seen everywhere from social media to the stock market. Since revealing Kaepernick as the cover of the campaign, Nike stock has slipped 2%, and has many wondering if the ongoing brand boycott will cause the company to drop further.

It is worth noting that this is not the first time Nike has taken a stance in regard to the Kaepernick controversy. Last year, the company issued a statement in regard to Kaepernick where they explained: “Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society.” Despite the wave of negative backlash, there has been a strong sense of support from those who stand with Kaepernicks’ cause, including sports analyst and radio host Colin Cowherd, who cited Nikes’ history with controversial athletes in a statement: “I applaud any company that can withstand the heat and have a belief system that makes people uncomfortable regularly…Nike stood behind Tiger, stood behind Kobe, and they’re standing behind another polarizing guy, Colin Kaepernick.” 

It is worth noting that this deal did not happen overnight, in fact, one could argue it has been happening since 2011. That year, Nike signed the former 49ers quarterback to sponsorship deal, but stopped placing him in ads after he left the NFL in 2016. It appears as though all the publicity Kaepernick has generated in the last two years presented a special business opportunity for Nike. It is hard to believe that the company responsible for one of the most recognizable campaigns, as well as the first sneaker Michael Jordan ever wore as a professional basketball player, did not foresee the initial negative response.

Though it may hurt now, one would have to assume that Nike will stand firm in their beliefs as they have in that past and make a lot of money in the process. The bitter pill for many to swallow is this: if Nike really wanted the business of staunch conservatives, and those who disagree with Kaepernicks’ stance, they would never have launched the campaign.

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