The debate over NFL athletes protesting racism may have entered a new chapter over the weekend: Just days before the season kicks off, Nike, one of the most culturally influential brands in sports, made Colin Kaepernick one of the faces of the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.
The move suggests that the company is behind Kaepernick’s effort to draw attention to the prevalence of racism and police brutality in America.
On Labor Day, Kaepernick, who has not worked as a football player for more than a year and a half, tweeted an image of his face covered with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Nike’s campaign spurred protests from conservatives upset with their continued embrace of an athlete who they believe disrespects American fundamentals. While Kaepernick and other athletes who have participated in the protests have been clear that their actions are about highlighting the prevalence of race-based discrimination, conservative critics, most prominently the president, have made the issue about respect for the military, the flag and the national anthem.
The politicization of commerce is nothing new. Boycotts of brands are increasingly common in this political climate, where customers are interested in the ideological values of the leaders of the companies they patronize.
With that being the case, some believe that Nike’s decision was motivated more by dollars than convictions. The largest demographic group in the country, millennials, also is the most ethnically and racially diverse. And perhaps as a result, their politics lean left when it comes to issues of race and criminal justice.
Still, the decision, and subsequent boycott, may come at a cost for Nike: Its share price dropped nearly 3 percent in trading Tuesday morning.
Nike certainly knew they risked conservative ire by choosing to embrace Kaepernick to this degree. But in an era many consider the most politically divisive in the last few decades, those leading the marketplace are being asked to take a stand, as well. Nike decided it couldn’t remain on the sidelines.