Opinion: Colin Kaepernick is a hero. Nike isn’t.

Graphic by Natalie Bauer

On Aug. 14, 2016, Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench at a San Francisco 49ers preseason game during the national anthem. Twelve days later, Kaepernick explained that his protest was an act of solidarity with oppressed people of color and victims of police brutality.

Despite his valid and clear justification, Kaepernick and other players that have joined him have received death threats, been blacklisted by the NFL, and been vilified on social media.

It’s a controversy that’s been talked about for two years now and has been fading in and out of the media spotlight. It almost seemed like it was close to being forgotten until about two weeks ago, when Nike debuted an ad that featured Kaepernick — someone Nike has sponsored for several years now.

The ad depicts a close-up of Kaepernick’s face in black and white with an overlaid text that reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

A movement to end the systemic oppression of people of color and survivors of police violence has been simplified by a sportswear company to three monosyllabic words: “Just do it.”

Kaepernick has donated over a million dollars of his salary to 41 different charities from 2016 to 2018 and raised an additional $400,000 from high-profile individuals in the community, according to his website and data from Forbes.

His website describes his work with Camp Taylor — an organization that helps children with congenital heart defects. Kaepernick also founded and fully funded the Know Your Rights campaign, which aids and empowers underprivileged children. In short, Kaepernick is a hero.

Kaepernick’s intentions are pure. Nike’s are not.  

Nike would benefit from the American public believing that it’s a champion for social change.

But it’s just a business — one that saw massive profits in using a controversial activist as a corporate weapon. According to Time Magazine, Nike made $43 million in media exposure in less than 24 hours alone after it began its Kaepernick ad series.  

Now, two weeks later, Nike’s stock has reached an all-time high. Nike took a gamble on endorsing Kaepernick. The company made itself a target to high-profile Republicans and angry Russian hackers. It gambled well, and as of now, its profits have never been better.

It’s highly likely that the use of Kaepernick in the ad campaign is a tactic to encourage the public to forget that it only started auditing its factories for safety concerns in 2002, that it ran a sexist ad campaign in Europe labelled as “The Men vs. Women challenge,” and that its factory workers get paid nowhere near a livable wage for an exhausting work week.  

Nike’s image, no doubt, would be much better if the public ignored the bevy of sexual misconduct allegations that caused five of its executives to step down earlier this year.

That’s where Kaepernick comes in.

By using a prominent and controversial public figure in an ad campaign, Nike has made itself into a kind of rebel corporation that appears to be unafraid to take sides.

Be warned: When companies get involved in activism, they aren’t being “woke.” They’re being manipulative. They’re reading their audience to make profits.

One might argue that Nike could generate a similar amount of publicity as it did with Kaepernick by backing a controversial conservative activist. However, considering the makeup of the NFL, that would be extremely bad for business.

About 73 percent of the 1,696 active NFL players are athletes of color. That means 73 percent of NFL players are much more likely to support Nike’s sponsorship of Kaepernick than they would be to support an activist on the right. Additionally, several hundred NFL athletes have already kneeled, following Kaepernick’s lead.

This may be a generalization, but even if some athletes of color do not support Kaepernick, it makes more sense for Nike’s business to garner media attention with a liberal activist.

While Nike has donated to Kaepernick’s own charity, Nike has failed to diversify its own donations. The majority of its charity work has been limited to programs to increase youth health awareness.

If the corporation truly cared about stopping police violence, Nike would financially invest in doing so. If Nike was truly unafraid to take a position, the corporation would make it clear by backing liberal non-athlete activists that share Kaepernick’s goals.

Nike doesn’t care whether or not Americans back Kaepernick.

No, Nike doesn’t care what the American public does — so long as the corporation does it while showing off the brand’s crisp swoosh.

Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, CA. He is a proud Slytherin and will happily discuss Harry Potter with anyone who bothers to listen.

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Eamon Morris

Eamon Morris PZ '22 is from Orange, California. He is an opinions writer for TSL.

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