Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, has shown the world he knows how to “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Nike, however, isn’t sacrificing much; in fact, the company is capitalizing on controversy and making a sizable profit. As a corporation motivated by profits, its main goal is accumulating wealth, not paving the way toward political change.
After Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, a politically motivated demonstration protesting police brutality against people of color, the NFL allegedly iced Kaepernick out of playing the sport he dedicated his life mastering. Since then, the former quarterback has become the face of Nike’s new campaign, featuring the phrase, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” For Kaepernick, everything refers to his career in the NFL.
The campaign with Kaepernick was well-thought-out and calculated; Nike knew exactly what they were doing when they made Kaepernick their front and center. Shares increased after the ad went public, despite ridiculous protests in which people burned their already purchased Nike merchandise.
Nike received more than $43 million worth of neutral or positive media exposure within the first 24 hours of the Kaepernick campaign. With 67 percent of Nike’s customers younger than 35, most saw the ad blow-up on social media, and about every news organization covered the story. The majority of Nike supporters are in favor of the message, and those who aren’t will be “quick to outrage and quick to forget,” according to brand expert Chris Allieri.
The company has yet to give a statement addressing police brutality in the United States explicitly. The corporation is letting others do all the talking.
There is something positive to be said for Nike supporting Kaepernick’s activism publicly, and indirectly denouncing those who do not believe in Kaepernick’s message, such as President Donald Trump, who said Nike’s ad sends, “a terrible message” and “there is no reason for it.” Nike’s contract with Kaepernick also includes a donation to his charity, the Know Your Rights campaign, an organization built to raise awareness for “higher education, self empowerment and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”
There is also something to be said about Nike almost not going through with the campaign. Nike is not the pinnacle of social justice; they almost dropped Kaepernick after the initial controversy surrounding his public protest on the field before any talk of making him the face of their 30th “Just Do It” anniversary campaign. They decided against dropping the former quarterback due to concerns over negative public backlash for siding with the NFL, which Kaepernick is currently suing for collusion.
The company has caught onto the recent trend of activism as advertisement. Coca-Cola, Airbnb and Walmart have all used the “woke” approach to appeal to consumers. Brands are trying to appear moral and ethical in the eyes of the public. However, morality is a human characteristic; brands and corporations are not people and therefore cannot be ethical or moral.
Don’t think for a second Nike is doing anything other than capitalizing off the activism Kaepernick practices. Neoliberalism should not be confused with productive social justice and activism efforts. Nike has sacrificed nothing while Kaepernick continues to sacrifice it all. Nike deserves no accolades; save it all for Kaepernick.