This is an opinions piece and does not reflect the opinions of the entire QC Staff.
Nike launched a campaign last week in celebration of the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” slogan, which Colin Kaepernick is now the face of. The campaign ad consists of a photo and an accompanying two minute long commercial, each quoting the professional athlete pariah turned champion of racial justice: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Proving to be among Nike’s most controversial marketing maneuvers to date, the ad has received a wide range of impassioned reactions. Filmmaker Spike Lee praised Nike’s decision as “courageous” for providing Kaepernick a platform to continue his protest of police brutality and institutional racism. Former National Football League tight end and sports media personality Shannon Sharpe commended Nike for being “on the right side of history.”
On the other hand, however, there’s been no shortage of fiercely critical (white) voices, including that of conservative-caricature-come-to-life Sean Hannity, who condemned Nike for standing behind Kaepernick, someone he’s deemed unpatriotic, disrespectful, and less a civil rights icon than a “Castro-loving …cop-hating, ex-three-year-backup quarterback.”
Ignited by the same misplaced outrage, a vocal few have taken to the vacuous trenches of the internet and embarked on a posting crusade, boycotting the company by destroying (already paid for) apparel bearing the iconic Nike swoosh.
As the country plunges deeper into an insatiable void of demagoguery and pathological ignorance, the urgency inherent in Kaepernick’s expressions of sociopolitical discontent cannot be overstated. By extension, the gravity of Nike’s decision to endorse Kaepernick and amplify his message is not something we should lose sight of or take for granted. Now more than ever, historically vulnerable communities must be fought for and protected from the renewed and emboldened reactionary forces currently gripping the country. To that end, if corporations like Nike are to retain such absurdly far-reaching spheres of power and influence, any opportunity that arises to secure their support and devote their resources to dismantling America’s crippling politics of fear and misdirected antagonisms should be taken advantage of — and Kaepernick is right to do so.
That said, the notion that Nike’s incentive to make Kaepernick the face of their campaign was somehow divorced from its corporate interests is woefully misguided. If Nike’s support of Kaepernick’s cause was at all genuine, why would they remain committed to their recently extended apparel deal set to last through 2028 with the National Football League — an organization whose concerted efforts to ostracize Kaepernick and silence those bold enough to follow his example have prompted the quarterback for hire to file a collusion lawsuit against the League’s owners? If Nike actually cared about the well-being of people of color, why not pay their sweatshop laborers in Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh and throughout the underdeveloped world a living wage? It’s almost like the perennial pursuit of profit that dominates society’s most powerful institutions — and consequently our entire existence — takes precedence over and is inflicted upon marginalized communities (crazy thought, I know). It’s almost as though global corporate empires like Nike could not give less of a motherfuck about social strife, needless human suffering, or the systemic murder of young black men — that is, unless you can sell it, which Nike has effectively managed to do.
It’s no accident that the seasoned sports fashion conglomerate recently saw a 31 percent spike in online sales (compared to 17 percent the previous year during the same time period). It should come as little surprise that, much to the chagrin of the boycotters polluting timelines with images of butchered socks and flaming sneakers — cathartic though it must have been — Nike has more than recovered from the initial dip in stock it suffered immediately after their announcement of the campaign. Despite their ad’s inspiring call to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” Nike has sacrificed jack shit in their lukewarm support of and “belief” in the former 49er.
Kaepernick’s partnership with Nike bodes well for him (and his bank account) and should contribute to the overall efficacy of his cause, still Nike’s promotional stunt — however woke some might make it out to be — in no way exonerates the multi-billion dollar corporation of its horrific legacy of exploitation across the globe. Kaepernick deserves credit for taking Nike’s money and utilizing their sociopolitical clout, to be sure, but we shouldn’t mistake business for virtue — the two are mutually exclusive. The commodification of Colin Kaepernick and, by extension, of the larger emancipatory struggle his anthem kneeling activism represents serves first and foremost as a testament to Nike’s hypocrisy and the pernicious myth of ethical capitalism.