Colin Kaepernick has just appeared as the face of a new Nike promotion. After two years of controversy over his stand, or rather, sit, on the national anthem and social justice, the move will anger many football fans and NFL management and owners. But the choice is smart and right.
Just call Nike's move smart. Here's a tweet from Kaepernick showing the first ad.
Two years ago, Kaepernick jumped headlong into controversy when the San Francisco 49ers quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said at the time. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
It essentially cost him his career, as NFL owners iced him out over an issue that angered many football fans who wanted him to keep quiet and go along. But Nike, which had signed Kaepernick to an endorsement deal initially in 2011, has renewed the contract and putting him out front, even as it continues to have an apparel deal with the league through 2028, according to a New York Times story.
Some football fans are angry and show it in some ... sorry ... pretty silly ways.
First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive? pic.twitter.com/4CVQdTHUH4-- Sean Clancy (@sclancy79) September 3, 2018
If some fans take offense, football can't walk away from Nike contractually, even though Nike has made some psychological and emotional distance to essentially associate itself with an important social issue. That's critical given the blowups it as seen of late, including:
- Trevor Edwards, its brand president and number 2 figure in the company, resigned immediately after an email in which the company mentioned "conduct inconsistent with Nike's principles." Another executive also left.
- Edwards got a sizeable going away package worth millions.
- Nike faced more protests over sweatshop conditions in some of its factories, which sound like some that came out in the 1990s.
Working with Kaepernick lets the company shift its own controversy to an area where it can seem like a principled winner to many. It's very slick PR in action and good for the brand. Is the campaign of this part of a deeper conviction? Impossible to say.
But as a pure PR play, it is very clever. It also works because of the NFL's own actions. In a move of solidarity, no team has signed Kaepernick. He's technically not a league employee at the moment, which means Nike isn't interfering with its partner's business. NFL executives and owners paved the way for Nike to take this route -- and to come out with a new Colin Kaepernick T-shirt and shoe.