This fall, Nike released an ad campaign featuring prominent African American athletes. One ad in particular celebrates Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49er quarterback, for his controversial National Anthem protests two years ago.
“Believe in something,” reads the black and white poster, “even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Kaepernick came under heavy fire in 2016 for kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem before several games with the goal of raising awareness for racial injustices in the American justice system. He was later forced out of the NFL when he was not offered a contract in 2017.
Public response to the Nike ad has been scorching. Many Americans who once purchased Nike products are now setting their brand-name apparel ablaze and tearing the swoosh from the ankles of their socks.
While we may call this an overreaction, surely we can respect the freedom of the people to react. After all, as consumers, what more can we do to be heard by the corporate giants than protest?
The real problem is the hypocrisy.
The Nike ad is like salt in an open wound for people who remain raw from Kaepernick’s 2016 anthem protests.
The majority of those who have reacted negatively to the new ad campaign are conservatives who strongly support our men and women in uniform. It’s no surpirse, then, that they were not very fond of seeing their favorite football players kneeling during the playing of our National Anthem in what they perceived as an act of disrespect for America’s soldiers.
For many of those conservatives, the First Amendment and the freedoms it guarantees, such as the freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly, are core values.
Isn’t it ironic then, that these same people are shouting bloody murder at Kaepernick for exercising his civil liberties?
These perfectly legal protests point to foundational differences in understanding. For Kaepernick and many others who took a knee during the National Anthem, the protest is not about “disrespecting” America’s armed forces. It’s about injustice—the divide at “the color line” that has plagued America since its beginnings.
Although Nike’s stock has fallen by more than 3 percent following the release of the hotly debated ad, online sales have skyrocketed, growing by more than 30 percent.
Whether people agree with the ad or not, it is clear that political statements are effective marketing strategies. People will continue to burn their products in a fit of anger, while others will continue to “take a knee.” Wherever you stand (or kneel), know this: division is our right, but until we recognize our faults, we will never come any closer to closing the gap between us and “the color line.”