Source: The Nation
Colin Kaepernick is now the face of Nike, which raises questions we should not be afraid to ask.
On Sunday, shock waves went through the sports and marketing worlds when news broke that the quarterback blackballed by the NFL for kneeling during the anthem to protest police violence, Colin Kaepernick, would be the face of the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” ad campaign. The ad is an unairbrushed black-and-white close-up of Kaepernick’s face with the slogan “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything. ”
Immediately, this sent social media into paroxysms of confusion. Liberals and left-wing commentators found themeselves largely praising the brave decision by the global sneaker behemoth, promising to buy some Nike products to show support for the move. Others on the left stopped short of singing Nike’s praises but saw it as a victory for Kaepernick: He stood by his principles and now has a sweet shoe deal to show for it, which for many, further legitimizes his decision to protest.
On the right, there were calls for demonstrations against the sneaker company. #BoycottNike trended on Twitter. Scenes of people burning their sneakers or cutting the swooshes off of their clothes also went viral.
This is a head-spinning set of circumstances. Nike has been for decades a target of protests by student activists, with organizations like United Students Against Sweatshops on the front lines, for notoriously poor labor practices. Earlier this year, the company was accused of fostering a sexist work environment with chronic harassment. The opening line of a New York Times exposé was “For too many women, life inside Nike had turned toxic.” Then there is Nike boss Phil Knight, who gave $500,000 in 2017 to Oregon Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler.
When it comes to marketing, for three decades—from Spike Lee’s famous Air Jordan ads and John McEnroe’s “Rebel With a Cause” campaign to its current campaigns featuring LeBron James and Serena Williams—Nike has used the image of rebellion to sell its gear, while stripping that rebellion of all its content. As Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America told ESPN, “We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.” The idea that Nike executives would position themselves as messengers of Kaepernick’s righteous years-long struggle is, to put it mildly, galling.