Khalil Mack might still be making headlines because of the historic deal that he made with the Chicago Bears, but the big NFL news this week is around Colin Kaepernick. Sure, Kaepernick isn’t playing in the NFL right now, but he’s definitely turning the game of football on its head while taking a stand for social justice. What’s interesting is that Nike has also taken a hard stand when it comes to Kaepernick and the kneeling issue. More specifically by supporting him in this cause. Kaepernick is the new face of a Nike campaign which takes aim at social justice, and there are a lot of people who aren’t happy. But that isn’t hurting Nike in any. In fact, they’ve doubled-down on the campaign by releasing a commercial earlier than expected.
But here’s where the NFL comes in. During the season opener between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons, Nike will air that powerful commercial that celebrates Kaepernick and other athletes while also commemorating the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” ad campaign. But what’s the NFL to do? They have already taken a stand in relation to kneeling. Nike provides uniforms for all 32 teams in the league and all the clothing worn by everyone on the sidelines. Is this a deal that the NFL is willing to forgo? Sure, another company could easily come in and provide clothing to the NFL, but is that something that they want?
In 2016, while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and other social injustices. Other NFL players, as well as a few athletes in other sports, followed his lead. His actions inflamed many who believe them to be disrespectful to the American flag and military while drawing the support of others who believe it is a noble cause. The ad does not show Mr. Kaepernick kneeling, but rather standing and facing an American flag.
Of course, Donald Trump had something to say about this. He tweeted:
“Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!”
Nike is taking a risk here, but one I think that will work out in their favor. Nike’s core demographic is a racially diverse group of people, under 35. Which means they’re much more likely to support protests during the national anthem than older generations.
Because of Kaepernick’s quest for social justice, he hasn’t been able to earn a spot on an NFL roster since he became a free agent after the 2016 season. Eric Reid, a well-regarded defensive back, who is also a prominent member of the protest movement, is also out of work. Both have accused NFL owners of colluding to keep them out of the league. Last week, an arbitrator for the NFL ruled that Kaepernick’s lawsuit on the matter could move forward.
In response to player protests, the NFL instituted a rule requiring players to either stand on the field or remain n the locker room during the national anthem. The rule took the NFL Players Association by surprise, and they threatened to sue. Several team owners said they would not fine their players for breaking the rule. Since then the league has agreed to halt its implementation and begin a dialogue with the players’ union over the issue. The season is just about ready to start, and the two sides haven’t come to an agreement, but we will keep you updated on how this rolls out.