About that Kaepernick Campaign

October 29, 2018

Last month, Nike released a new marketing campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, who has been shrouded in controversy since 2016 due to his choice to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. The campaign has been plastered everywhere, from San Francisco to New York City, and the discussion it has brought about has been virtually inescapable on social media. The ad has been divisive, as Kaepernick is viewed as a controversial figure. Some are supportive of Nike and Kaepernick, while others have gone so far as to burn their Nike shoes.

Believe in Something

Making Colin Kaepernick the face of an advertising campaign is a great move for both brands: Nike’s and Kaepernick’s. Nike benefits by increasing brand loyalty from the demographic targeted with this ad, but also improves their moral standing with those who are not especially passionate about the issue of modern-day civil rights, but might support Kaepernick’s cause.

All that comes at a cost of polarizing the demographic that chooses to side against Kaepernick. This was a carefully planned business decision by Nike, a multi-billion dollar company. They would not have gone forward with the campaign if they determined it could potentially have lost them money. And indeed, they haven’t. According to Time Magazine, Nike created $43 million in media buzz within 24 hours of the story being released, most of it being either neutral to positive.

Nike has not ascended into moral godliness by way of running this campaign. However, they are doing the right thing. Getting Kaepernick, and more importantly, the issues to which he is trying to bring attention back into the spotlight is a righteous cause. Nike is taking a stance by doing this, a stance I would argue is morally reasonable.

By taking a stance in favor of Kaepernick, Nike is supporting protests against a Dallas police officer killing the unarmed Botham Jean in his own home after the officer mistook it for her home. And the death of Freddie Gray after receiving fatal spinal cord injuries in a Baltimore police car. And Michael Brown, who was fired at 12 times after an altercation with a Ferguson police officer. And Philando Castile, who was shot at 7 times after he disclosed he had a legal firearm in his car during a regular traffic stop. And Walter Scott, an unarmed man who was shot in the back during another traffic stop. And Eric Garner, who was put in a chokehold and strangled to death by New York City police officers, is a supportable cause.

Nike has the freedom to take that stance, even if I or anyone else disagrees with them, just as every corporation does.

Indeed, I think that there is a moral responsibility for every person and company to recognize the injustices committed by a small number of police officers in this nation. One cannot argue that murder is not morally wrong. There is no argument left to be made that is not morally wrong against the murders, and so those who refuse to recognize those injustices rail against Kaepernick, instead of recognizing that police officers taking the lives of unarmed black people is wrong.

Just as companies have the right to take a stance on the issues our nation faces; we as individuals have a right to respond to that stance.

Chick-Fil-A has donated to organizations that oppose gay marriage, and according to the Los Angeles Times, is openly anti-LGBTQ, which is within their rights. I can choose to boycott Chick-Fil-A, just as some are choosing to boycott Nike now. As an independent citizen I have that right.

Because of the first amendment, everyone in this nation has the right to voice their own opinions. I have the absolute right to disagree with your decision, and respond in whatever peaceful way I see fit. This means both the Nike boycotters and Nike itself are totally within their rights. The question becomes who is more effective.

Kaepernick hasn’t set foot on an NFL field since 2016, and we’re still talking about him. His activism has been wildly successful, and has brought the public eye to the injustice and racial profiling done by police officers across the nation. This ad campaign just puts Kaepernick in the public eye again, continuing the discourse surrounding racial injustice. This is effective activism.

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Don’t Sacrifice Everything

Nike is a respectable company with overall good intentions, but their decision to use Kaepernick as a marketing tactic is troubling.

Since their endorsement of Colin Kaepernick, Nike has experienced a spike in their stock price. Maybe they think that Kaepernick did the right thing, and they actually care about his message. But this is capitalist America. You do not do something that does not make you money. And in this case, Nike has sliced America right down the middle with yet another divisive issue. They could not care less about what you think their morals are. All they want is your money, and they are willing to capitalize on divisive issues to get it. Righteous? I think not.

Nike is an enormous company, and it put huge amounts of forethought into this decision. They knew they would make money off of this even before they did it. They know that you, as a consumer, are statistically more likely to buy from a company that you view as ethical. People are being exploited by Nike because they think Nike actually cares about this social issue.

While it has proven to be an excellent short-term strategy for Nike, it comes at the expense of limiting their appeal to conservative consumers in the long term. From anything political comes protest and boycott, and it is easy for a company to alienate a large number of their customers by endorsing one side of a hotly debated issue.

While Kaepernick has stated that he meant no disrespect, his actions still carried an inconsiderate message. There is no law that prevents Kaepernick from doing this, and it is his right, guaranteed by the First Amendment’s assurance of freedom of speech, to protest what he views as injustices. However, he and Nike need to realize that standing for the anthem is to honor those who willingly made great sacrifices to uphold and protect freedom on Earth, and that sitting or kneeling is viewed by many, including myself, as disrespectful towards those who serve or have served the United States.

It is not that I do not like Kaepernick or Nike. Kaepernick regularly donates to inner city charities and foundations, and it is clear that he means well. It is the fact that he is kneeling and being supported by Nike for it that is frustrating. If you want to protest something, please leave the anthem and the American flag out of it. The anthem is meant to recognize what unites us as a nation, not what divides us, and by supporting Kaepernick, Nike is making money by damaging one of the last uniting constants in such a divided country.

The U.S. Code states, “During a rendition of the national anthem… all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.” (36 U.S.C. § 301). But I do not stand because of the flag code, nor should you. You should stand because you are an American.

We stand because we support the police, who serve our communities with honor and distinction, knowing that each day could be their last. We stand because we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We stand with the families of those in service. We stand with the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard. We stand because we all share love for our country.

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