Skip to content

Nike and Kaepernick: A marriage in activism

By Paddy Sidwell, English Literature third year and Epigram Sport contributor​

By Paddy Sidwell, English Literature third year and Epigram Sport contributor

In the aftermath of Nike’s release of their powerful ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign featuring ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, many have taken to social media to vent their opposition by burning clothes manufactured by the company.

Until President Trump can gather up his Air Maxes for a bonfire, he has unsurprisingly resorted to Twitter. Two days after the campaign was launched he posted ‘What was Nike thinking?’ Well, I’m glad you asked.

On a cynical level, Nike may have seen this primarily as a financial move. Their stock is currently at an all-time high, a statistic that will only further anger the President, if he accepts it as being true that is. Nike know their target audience, with two thirds of the company’s shoe consumers under the age of 35. Of this demographic, 44% agree with Nike’s choice to include Kaepernick in the campaign, with 32% opposing it - the rest were unsure.*

But on a more profound note, Nike are trying to be a part of something much bigger, and not for the first time.

  • In 1988, the ‘Just Do It’ tagline was launched, tackling ageism through the inclusion of 80-year-old Walter Stack – a man who ran around 62,000 miles in his lifetime.

  • A year later, Paralympian Craig Blanchette featured in a Nike commercial, with the company supporting disabled athletes.

  • In 1995, the openly gay, HIV positive runner Ric Munoz, was the face of ‘Just Do It’.

  • In the same year, Nike launched its ‘If You Let Me Play’ advert, advocating equal sporting opportunities for women.

  • Their 2017 campaign ‘Equality’ tackled issues of race and alluded to the parallels between racial discrimination in sport and in the real world, featuring athletes such as Serena Williams and LeBron James.

This is not the first time Nike have caused a rift with their advertising, and I hope that it is not the last. This is a multinational company using its platform to reach billions across the globe in the pursuit of a more equal world. Nike is standing by those fighting for change in a world that so desperately needs it.

This includes Kaepernick, the spearhead of this movement. Whilst still an NFL player, Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem. He cited police brutality against African Americans as his reason for doing so. He is now unemployed.

However, it is important to realise that in the UK, we do not see the Union Jack in the same way as the Stars and Stripes are seen in the US. For Americans, the flag represents those who have fought and died for their freedom, and represents all those who continue to risk their lives for their country on a daily basis. The flag flies proudly outside their homes, with the national anthem sung before every professional game of sport. This is why people oppose Kaepernick’s movement; they see his actions as disrespectful.

When Muhammad Ali refused to join the US Army in Vietnam in 1967, his actions, too, were seen as disrespectful. He was stripped of his boxing titles and was unable to acquire a boxing license for over 3 years. Ali cited his religious beliefs as his reason for rejecting military service, but is famously quoted for alluding to the racial discrimination present in the US as well.

He asked: 'Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?'

Four years later, his suspended prison sentence was lifted, and Ali was pardoned. He went on to regain the world heavyweight titles of which he was stripped and is now arguably seen as the greatest athlete ever.

Like Ali before him, Kaepernick is putting his integrity before everything else. Like Ali before him, he is sacrificing his livelihood in the pursuit of justice. And I hope, like Ali before him, Kaepernick gets the chance to compete at the highest level again. This script deserves a fairy-tale ending, and this campaign is Nike helping to write it.

To those who don’t like this movement, I say this: avert your eyes, because it is not going away. Taking away Kaepernick’s job is only going to add fuel to his fire. He will keep standing up – or should I say kneel down – for what he believes in.

Statistics taken from CNN

Featured Image: Unsplash / George Pagan III

What are your opinions on Nike's advert? Let us know your thoughts!

Facebook // Epigram Sport // Twitter