Yesterday Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of its 30th anniversary "Just Do It Campaign." In 2016 Kaepernick, jumpstarted a movement in the NFL to protest racial injustice, by kneeling during the national anthem before San Francisco 49ers games.
Kaepernick's decision was polarizing for many across the country. He opted out of his contract in 2017 and hasn't been picked up by any other NFL teams since. The former quarterback is suing the NFL for collusion, arguing that he's being blackballed out of the league because of his protests. The NFL is currently in negotiations with the NFL Players Association over whether or not players should be allowed to kneel during the anthem moving forward.
Gino Fisotti, Nike's vice president of brand for North America told ESPN why they selected Kaepernick to front their campaign.
"We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward."
Just like Kaepernick's protest has been polarizing with even the president weighing in on his disapproval of the players' actions, the news about Nike making him the face of their campaign has been as well.
Most businesses opt-out of controversial topics, choosing instead to focus on safer subjects that are closely related to their product message.
But being politically correct, or appearing to be indifferent about important social issues isn't the safe space that it once was.
Business is about belonging. And increasingly customers want to know that the brands they support share the same values as they do. Many feel that silence on even polarizing social issues indicates support of unjust policies.
Thus, brands are starting to speak up. When French Open officials called out Serena Williams specifically noting that the catsuit she wore to the tournament earlier in the year would be banned, Nike reiterated its support for the athlete with a simple phrase.
Like with Kaepernick's announcement, I saw people throughout my social media feeds praising Nike for its actions and support of what they deem an important issue.
I had a similar reaction a while back when I saw popular business coach Marie Forleo post on her Instagram about the tragic death of Nia Wilson. I developed new respect for her and felt connected to her and her message at a deeper level.
Forleo also mobilized her tribe to raise more than $2 million to support reuniting families who'd been separated at the border.
And Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi weighed in on the government policy earlier this year that was separating families at the US-Mexican border.
As a father, a citizen and an immigrant myself, the stories coming from our border break my heart. Families are the backbone of society. A policy that pulls them apart rather than building them up is immoral and just plain wrong. KeepFamiliesTogether https://t.co/g2Cu40zvcX-- dara khosrowshahi (dkhos) June 19, 2018
Khosrowshahi pledged $100,000 from Uber for the cause, encourage others to donate to the fight, and in a letter to his employees announced that Uber would send their legal team to support the cause pro bono.
Our Legal team is also reaching out to law firms with a strong commitment to pro bono work to explore immediate opportunities for Uber Legal to partner with them to help parents and children affected by these policies in any way we can.
As you let your voice be heard on societal issues that are front and center in an authentic way, in particular, the ones that speak to you most, you position your business to be a relevant voice in the culture, rather than just one who capitalizes it.
You also draw your customers who share the same values closer to you, as they see you as an ally in important issues.
You are making a statement whether you do it intentionally or not. Silence speaks just as loud as someone who rings an alarm.
When you see an opportunity to contribute to the conversation about what is happening in culture, don't shy away from it. It could be as simple as a tweet, a sign in your physical building, or even a formal policy you implement.
Seize the chance to join the conversation, and make the customers who share your values feel like they belong with you, even more than they already do.