American multinational corporation, Nike has become a subject of controversy ever since it unveiled its new “Just Do It” ad campaign featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Several Americans shared photos and videos of them burning Nike products in protest. The company’s stock was also down by 2.5 per cent on Tuesday, a day after the controversial ad was unveiled. Last year, athletic clothing manufacturer Under Armour had found itself in a similar situation after its chief executive made comments supporting Trump. Another giant, Adidas was urged to cut its ties with rapper Kanye West in May after he had described slavery as a choice and praised Trump.
Critics of Kaepernick have hit out at Nike on social media platforms. Clearly displeased with the sports brand, many people posted pictures and videos of them burning the company’s products on social media, using the hashtag #boycottNike and #justburnit.
Why is Colin Kaepernick a controversial figure?
The former NFL player had triggered a political firestorm back home in 2016 by kneeling during the US national anthem to protest racial injustice. The former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers was dropped from the team after repeating the act and has not played in the NFL since early last year.
The new Nike ads, which were unveiled just days before the start of 2018 NFL season, show a portrait of Kaepernick with the slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The ad was posted by the athlete on his Twitter account with the caption #JustDoIt.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
The ad also comes days after Kaepernick was cheered by spectators when he appeared alongside the fellow player and activist Eric Reid at the US Open tennis tournament to watch Serena Williams on Friday.
Donald Trump reacts
The United States President had reignited the controversy during a campaign rally in September last year. Trump had described players like Kaepernick who knelt for the anthem as “sons of bitches” who should be fired. The US President has repeated the criticisms frequently over the past year, even suggesting at one stage that protesting players “shouldn’t be in the country”.
He also hit out at the recent campaign by saying, “I think it’s a terrible message that (Nike) are sending and the purpose of them doing it, maybe there’s a reason for them doing it.”
The Jimmy Kimmel show returned from a break to discuss the Nike controversy. Kimmel called the act of burning Nike products a dumb move. “All of these guys who voted for Trump, now they can’t watch the NFL, they can’t ride Harleys, they have to burn their Nikes, they can’t go to Starbucks or watch Netflix, they have to love Vladimir Putin and hate the FBI … I mean, if this was a practical joke, it would be one of the greatest practical jokes of all time,” he said. “Why not just burn your money? You already bought the clothes,” Kimmel added.
Trevor Noah, on his show, expressed a similar view and asked protesters if they realise that Nike already has their money. “Wow, people are so angry, they’re burning their own shoes?” he said. “You realize Nike already has your money, right? They’ve already got your money. You’re only hurting yourself,” he said.
Country music singer John Rich posted a photo of a pair of slashed Nike sports socks. “Our Soundman just cut the Nike swoosh off his socks,” Rich wrote on Twitter. “Get ready @Nike multiply that by the millions.”
Former CIA director John Brennan came in support of Kaepernick and said he drew collective attention towards the problem of continued racial injustice in America. “e did so not to disrespect our flag but to give meaning to the words of the preamble of our Constitution—“in order to form a more perfect union.” Well done, Colin, well done,” Brennan tweeted.
The latest campaign has once again triggered discussions over the issue of the national anthem and player protests against police violence during the coming season, increasing pressure on the NFL to broker a solution. In May, NFL owners had approved a new policy which made it mandatory for all players on the field to stand during the pre-match ritual of the US national anthem. However, it was shelved in July as the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to reopen dialogue to reach agreement on a new approach.
To make matters worse for Nike, ESPN reported that Kaepernick, who signed a sponsorship deal with the company in 2011, was on its payroll throughout the controversy of the past two years.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 5, 2018
“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,” said Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America.
Unperturbed by the protests, Nike even dropped a full-length commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick on Wednesday. The ad slated to air directly before the NFL season on Thursday, features women athletes, a disabled youngster, a reference to refugees, and people from various races.
The commercial has no mention of Kaepernick’s infamous stance and is a call to excellence at the highest levels, featuring celebrity athletes such as Serena Williams and LeBron James, as well as lesser-known players such as MLS star Alphonso Davies, who was born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled civil war in Liberia.