Corporations and types usually try to keep away from taking robust public positions out of worry of alienating prospects, however Nike is operating straight into the political fray.
4 days earlier than a brand new NFL season will get underway, Nike is throwing its weight behind probably the most polarizing figures in soccer, and America: former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick might be one of many faces of Nike’s 30th anniversary commemoration of its iconic “Simply Do It” slogan. The marketing campaign can even characteristic athletes reminiscent of Serena Williams, NFL vast receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Shaquem Griffin, a rookie linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks whose left hand was amputated when he was a baby.
Kaepernick tweeted out a photograph from the marketing campaign on Monday. Over a black-and-white image of his face, a caption reads, “Imagine in one thing. Even when it means sacrificing every little thing.”
In backing Kaepernick, whom the corporate has sponsored since 2011, Nike is making a high-stakes gamble that its prospects assist his protest, or not less than that sufficient of them do. The corporate can also be betting its model can stand up to criticism from conservative corners, together with the White Home.
Kaepernick has not performed within the NFL because the 2016 season. That yr, he started kneeling in the course of the nationwide anthem to boost consciousness about police brutality in opposition to African-People and different racial injustices. Dozens of different gamers additionally started becoming a member of Kaepernick, and he has grown into a logo of dividing traces over race in America.
In 2017, he filed a grievance in opposition to the NFL, alleging the league conspired to maintain him out due to his protests. An arbiter final week denied the NFL’s request to throw out the grievance, permitting the case to proceed to a trial.
The protests have divided the league, usually pitting a conservative white proprietor base in opposition to the NFL’s principally African-American gamers.
The homeowners voted in Could to approve rules that might have required gamers to face on the sideline in the course of the anthem or or stay within the locker room. Groups could be fined if gamers didn’t stand in the course of the anthem, and the principles allowed particular person groups to set their very own insurance policies.
These guidelines are on hold whereas the league and the gamers’ affiliation negotiate.
Nike’s public assist of Kaepernick additionally dangers drawing the anger of President Donald Trump.
Trump and his allies have repeatedly seized on the problem. At a rally in Alabama final yr, Trump mentioned staff homeowners ought to “get that son of a bitch off the sphere” if a participant knelt in protest of injustice in the course of the anthem. Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts sport after some gamers knelt.
“This can be a very profitable, robust situation for me,” Trump informed Dallas Cowboys proprietor Jerry Jones final yr, according to a sworn deposition Jones gave in reference to Kaepernick’s lawsuit.
Nike declined to touch upon whether or not it anticipated Trump to criticize the corporate or how it might reply if he did.
In some methods, nonetheless, Nike is protected against backlash.
The corporate has constructed itself round its star athletes, a lot of whom are African- American.
Prime Nike athletes, together with LeBron James and Serena Williams, have publicly backed Kaepernick and his proper to protest.
On Saturday, Williams praised Kaepernick and former 49ers’ defensive again Eric Reid, who joined Kaepernick as one of many first to protest by way of kneeling and who’s now additionally with out an NFL staff. “I believe each athlete, each human, and undoubtedly each African-American needs to be utterly grateful and honored how Colin and Eric are doing a lot extra for the larger good,” she mentioned.
Nike’s relationship with the NFL can also be at play right here. The model is the official uniform sponsor of the NFL.
“Nike has a long-standing relationship with the NFL and works extensively with the league on all campaigns that use present NFL gamers. Colin shouldn’t be at the moment employed by an NFL staff and has no contractual obligations to the NFL,” Nike spokesperson Sandra Carreon-John mentioned.
A consultant for the NFL didn’t instantly reply to remark concerning the advert or whether or not anybody from the league noticed it earlier than it was launched.
Nike’s announcement set off fierce debates on social media. The corporate was trending worldwide late Monday on Twitter (, which counted greater than 1.2 million tweets concerning the sports activities model. )
Its critics included nation musician John Wealthy, who posted a photo displaying that his soundman had lower the Nike swoosh off his socks in protest.
Wealthy warned Nike to “prepare,” suggesting hundreds of thousands of different prospects would comply with swimsuit.
The corporate additionally drew fireplace from Fox Sports activities Radio host Clay Travis, who called the Kaepernick campaign “pathetic,” and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who tweeted, “I suppose @Nike will now give attention to making knee pads for NFL.”
However many customers voiced assist for the model’s resolution and mocked individuals who claimed to be destroying their Nike merchandise in protest, suggesting they need to donate them to charity as a substitute.
Williams said she was “particularly proud to be part of the Nike household immediately.”
Outspoken sports activities journalist Jemele Hill argued that folks should not be stunned by Nike’s resolution based mostly on its historical past.
“Nike grew to become Nike as a result of it was constructed on the thought of rise up,” she wrote. “This is identical firm that dealt w/ the NBA banning Air Jordans. They made [Michael] Jordan the face of the corporate at a time when black males had been thought of to be an enormous threat as pitch males. They don’t seem to be new to this.”
-Jethro Mullen contributed to this report
CNNMoney (New York) First revealed September 3, 2018: 9:05 PM ET