Kaepernick’s influence extends beyond taking a knee

Colin Kaepernick’s message extends past deal with Nike

Colin Kaepernicks recent ad with Nike.


Colin Kaepernick’s recent ad with Nike.

Isabella Ashton, Editor-in-Chief

It was in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the National Anthem. What ensued was a firestorm of controversy as a culture war, racial tensions, and politics converged. And now, two years later, the former NFL quarterback has reignited the conversation.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

That’s the text on Nike’s newest advertisement featuring Kaepernick. On Labor Day, the company announced that Kaepernick was to be the latest face of their campaign.

Kaepernick was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers when he began his protests. His intent was to spread awareness on police brutality and systematic oppression faced by black Americans and people of color, and while these efforts were praised by some, others deemed his kneeling unpatriotic. With such a polarizing figure becoming the face of Nike, it did not take long for supporters and critics of the ad to take their opinions to social media.

Both NBA star Lebron James and tennis champion Serena Williams expressed solidarity with Nike. Williams has spoken out in support of Kaepernick in the past, and tweeted that she was “[especially] proud to be a part of the Nike family today,” after the ad was released.

Those who opposed the ad posted videos of themselves on Twitter burning their Nike merchandise. The hashtag #BanNike began to circulate. Perhaps some of the most extreme backlash to the ad came from the Kenner, Louisiana mayor E. Ben Zahn III who, according to Vox, released a memorandum stating that Nike merchandise would be banned from all Kenner recreational facilities. (This has since been cited as unconstitutional by the ACLU.)

On the other side of the political spectrum, some liberals are also criticizing Kaepernick’s Nike endorsement. They fear that his original message will be watered down by partnering it with a corporation. In the end, they argue, the company’s main motivation is to make money, not promote social justice.

Eventually, we must ask if we are trading cultural influence for currency. Nike, likely, is not selling gear with Kaepernick kneeling, or his stated issues with capitalism, or his disdain for the presidency. It shall be neatly packaged rhymes and slogans, enough to make one remember who is being honored, but unwilling to endorse his true motives,” said Tyler Tynes in an article for SB Nation.

Nike’s ad comes at a time where the NFL’s policies surrounding national anthem protests are in a state of flux.

Last May, the NFL announced that players would either have to stand for the national anthem or stay in the locker room, but this policy was suspended. No other policy has been created, and as the football season continues, protests do as well.

Members of the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles knelt or raised their fists in protest in a preseason game. In the following weeks, protests have remained scattered, with several players from the Dolphins, Eagles, and Jacksonville Jaguars kneeling, raising their fists, or staying in the locker room during the anthem.

But players’ actions are not just limited to anthem protests. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin founded the Player’s Coalition in 2017, and the nonprofit organization is now governed by twelve NFL players.

At the start of this football season, the coalition wrote an open letter titled The Fight Continues. In it, they highlighted the work they’ve done off the field.

[…] We have made trips to Capitol Hill, gone on ride-alongs with police officers and held meetings with grassroots organizations, community advocates, public defenders, and progressive prosecutors. […] We lobbied for criminal justice reform in New York, Pennsylvania, and Boston, pushed for the restoration of voting rights in Florida and Louisiana, and for prosecutor accountability across the country. We hosted D.A.–candidate forums in multiple states, including California and Missouri. This is just a sampling of what we have done,” the letter said.  

The letter also commended Kaepernick’s actions.

“Colin Kaepernick started a movement through protest, taking a knee to put a laser focus on the men and women who have died because of police brutality. His efforts have inspired us to work on behalf of our lost brothers’ memory to try to stop the carnage. He did this at great personal cost to himself. Surely it’s an act of patriotism to forfeit your job to fight for others.”

Kaepernick has not been signed for two seasons, and is filing a grievance against the NFL, accusing them of colluding to keep him off the field. With this legal battle ahead, his Nike ad still generating controversy, and his name at the center of a heated debate, Kaepernick is set to remain in the picture.