What others say: Nike campaign shows Kaepernick’s message resonates

If President Donald Trump hadn’t bragged at a campaign rally in Alabama that if he were an NFL owner, he would fire any “son of a bitch” who knelt during the national anthem, would Colin Kaepernick be a face of Nike’s Just Do It campaign? Would a black-and-white image of Mr. Kaepernick’s face with the words, “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything” be ricocheting around the internet today if an NFL team, any NFL team, would have so much as signed him as a backup quarterback? Would players still be following his example to kneel or even raise their fists during the national anthem if his efforts to bring attention to racial injustice had been taken at face value and not as an affront to the flag, military and country?

All those posting images of burned or defaced Nikes since word spread of Mr. Kaepernick’s new Nike campaign over the weekend should consider this: It is they who transformed him from a quarterback whose career had been middling since taking his team to (and losing in) the Super Bowl into an icon, someone whose cultural power far transcends sport.

Nike isn’t so much thrusting him back into the spotlight as it is recognizing that he’s already there — and capable of selling shoes. Mr. Kaepernick’s jersey leaped to the top of sales lists after the anthem protests started in 2016 and stayed in the top 50 last year despite the fact that he wasn’t on an NFL roster. Nike’s stock may have dipped slightly in early trading after the announcement, but here’s betting that the sports equipment giant did some marketing research before signing what is reportedly a multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal with an athlete who is suing his former league and may never play again. Whatever buzz Under Armour may have gotten from its unconventional and statement-making ad choices in the past (like the exceptional Misty Copeland campaign of four years ago) pales next to this.

Why does Mr. Kaepernick still resonate? Part of it is certainly the fact that he has, as the ad suggests, genuinely sacrificed a great deal in the name of principle. That’s always an intriguing narrative, and particularly so in the Age of Trump. Last week’s tributes to the late Sen. John McCain traded heavily on that notion. But there’s also the simple fact that Mr. Kaepernick’s message about protesting racial injustice has only become more relevant since its origins at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. Then, the nation’s first African American president was (however imperfectly) seeking to achieve the kind of racial reconciliation many assumed had already arrived with his election. Now, we have a president who posits moral equivalence between white supremacists and those who protest them, emboldening those who would exacerbate and exploit racial division.

News about the Kaepernick ad came on the same weekend that the Tallahassee Democrat reported on robocalls linked to a white supremacist group in which a man speaking in a racist exaggeration of a minstrel performer’s dialect pretends to be the Democratic nominee for Florida governor, Andrew Gillium, who is African American. The recording, which includes a backdrop of jungle sounds, makes reference to his Republican opponent’s statement a few days before that Florida voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by voting for Mr. Gillium.

Colin Kaepernick still matters because his message still does. NFL owners couldn’t make him go away by keeping him off a team (whether through outright collusion, as his lawsuit alleges, or a more informal groupthink), and they couldn’t stop the protests that stemmed from his activism through ham-fisted attempts at compromise with the players. President Trump raised the stakes too high for that. Nike, who has had Mr. Kaepernick under contract since 2011, is doing nothing more than taking advantage of the opportunity the president and his allies so cynically created.

— The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 4

More in Opinion

Larry Persily (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: State’s ‘what if’ lawsuit doesn’t much add up

The state’s latest legal endeavor came July 2 in a dubious lawsuit — with a few errors and omissions for poor measure

The entrance to the Homer Electric Association office is seen here in Kenai, Alaska, on May 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Speak up on net metering program

The program allows members to install and use certain types of renewable generation to offset monthly electric usage and sell excess power to HEA

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs bills for the state’s 2025 fiscal year budget during a private ceremony in Anchorage on Thursday, June 25, 2024. (Official photo from The Office of the Governor)
Alaska’s ‘say yes to everything’ governor is saying ‘no’ to a lot of things

For the governor’s purposes, “everything” can pretty much be defined as all industrial development

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

During a legislative hearing on Monday, CEO Deven Mitchell referred to controversy it’s created as “noise.”

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Crime pays a lot better than newspapers

I used to think that publishing a quality paper, full of accurate, informative and entertaining news would produce enough revenue to pay the bills

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict

Ballot booths are set up inside Kenai City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Perspective from an election worker

Here is what I know about our Kenai Peninsula Borough election system

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.