Press play to see the new Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams and LeBron James.
Colin Kaepernick may not be suiting up in the NFL any time soon, but he’ll continue to dominate the sports conversation as the season starts. In a move that seemed to shock many, global sporting goods giant Nike announced on Monday that the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback will be the face of its “Just Do It” 30th anniversary ad campaign.
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” the ad reads. Kaepernick tweeted out the an image of the ad on Monday afternoon. The multiyear deal includes Kaepernick apparel, a shoe and T-shirt, and Nike will also donate money to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign, according to the New York Times.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
Kaepernick became a lightning rod in the NFL when he refused to stand for the national anthem in 2016 as a form of protest against police brutality and racial injustice. Since then, he’s become the face of the “anthem protest” movement and a polarizing figure — championed by some as a courageous pursuer of justice, and denounced by others — including President Donald Trump — as unpatriotic and insulting to the troops.
Although he has reportedly met with a few teams, Kaepernick has remained unsigned since his 2016 season with the 49ers. In October of 2017, he filed a collusion grievance against the NFL, charging that team owners have blacklisted him as punishment for protesting. Last week, Kaepernick defeated the NFL’s bid to have the case dismiss, as arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that the case had enough merit to warrant a hearing.
The national anthem protest has remained a thorny issue for the NFL. The owners and the players union remain undecided over the league’s national anthem policy, which was ratified by team owners in May. Players were given the option to stay in the locker room during the anthem but would be required to stand if on the field or face discipline. In July, the policy was put on hold and remains in limbo.
Now, Kaepernick will be heading one of sports world’s biggest ad campaigns, and right as the NFL kicks off its regular season on Thursday. Making matters more interesting: Nike is a corporate sponsor of the NFL and the official uniform provider for the league.
“Nike has a long-standing relationship with the NFL and works extensively with the league on all campaigns that use current NFL players. Colin is not currently employed by an NFL team and has no contractual obligations to the NFL,” Nike spokesperson Sandra Carreon-John said.
On Tuesday, the NFL released an official statement: “The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity,” NFL Executive Vice President of Communications Jocelyn Moore said Tuesday stated. “We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities. The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”
Other high profile athletes applauded the news online. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and other basketball stars praised the deal on social media. TMZ noted that star NFL quarterback Tom Brady showed his approval by liking many of the posts. And tennis great Serena Williams expressed her approval and solidarity by posting her own Nike ad.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) September 4, 2018
Naturally, there has also been plenty of push-back against Nike’s’ decision, as evidenced by the hashtags #BoycottNike and #JustBurnIt on Twitter . John Rich of popular country act Big and Rich tweeted out his disapproval showing destroyed Nike apparel.
— John Rich (@johnrich) September 3, 2018
And others have followed suit:
First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive? pic.twitter.com/4CVQdTHUH4
— Sean Clancy (@sclancy79) September 3, 2018
But as marketing-savvy social media users noted, all the back and forth has also led to increased exposure for the ad campaign.
— N.RamJo (@CRMEducation) September 4, 2018
Kevin Williams of the Chicago Tribune called Nike’s decision to use Kaepernick “genuis,” stating: “In making Kaepernick the poster for a new ‘Just Do It’ campaign, Nike has burnished its own human rights cred by embracing ‘the struggle;’ thumbed its nose at any notions of authoritarian suppression in its relationship with the NFL; and made sure a brotha got paid.”
Stay tuned for updates on this story.