Nike has sparked much controversy and media attention with a recent ad campaign reading, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” superimposed over the face of Colin Kaepernick.
The former 49ers quarterback turned free agent became notorious in 2016 for refusing to stand for the national anthem. The “Take a Knee” movement that followed polarized the nation and connected two realms of society that had previously been thought of as separate.
Athletes have used their fame to fight in political battles for generations. In 1936, Jesse Owens flew to Hitler’s Germany to compete in the Berlin Olympics and spit in the face of “aryan superiority.” In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black baseball player in the major leagues since 1889. When he took the field as a member of the Dodgers, Robinson was making a political statement. In 1973, Billie Jean King supported equal pay for women at the U.S. Open, and went on to defeat Bobby Rigs in the now famed “Battle of the Sexes.” All of these individuals are now heralded as heroes, people to look up to and write reports on. Someday, Colin Kaepernick may join their ranks.
Many people have taken offense at Kaepernick’s political activism because of its execution. The national anthem is held as sacred in the American consciousness, a symbol of freedom bought with the blood of patriots. To many, Kaepernick spits in the face of our veterans when he takes a knee. To Kaepernick, he is maintaining a quiet vigil, mourning the deaths of many black Americans that have fallen victim to police brutality. Both sides have merit and both sides seem unwilling to lend the perspective of the other much weight.
Given this set of polarized viewpoints, Nike has hedged its bets on Kaepernick, leading to a 31 percent rise in sales over Labor Day weekend, despite a drop in favorability. The move by Nike to appeal to the left is not the first of its kind and given the monetary reward, I am inclined to believe the corporation was motivated by profits.
Increasingly, it has become impossible for businesses to avoid politics. More and more, you see businesses appealing to the left in order to earn the dollar of the millennial consumer. In 2016, Target opened its bathrooms to transgender individuals and in 2017, Audi ran an ad about the wage gap during the Super Bowl. This year, a multitude of companies, including United Airlines, Enterprise, and MetLife, ended their relationships with the NRA after the massacre at Stoneman-Douglass while Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart discontinued the sale of rifles to those under 21. Each of these maneuvers caused an outcry at their inception. There were both boycotts and waves of support, but the shift towards political awareness in the corporate sphere is noticeable to anyone.
This shift should not be taken as a sign of nobility or the sudden emergence of morality from a corrupt system. Businesses are profit-motivated by design, thus their political leanings merely reflect what is in vogue. Apple may tout values of progressivism all they want, yet they were still caught violating child labor laws. In many cases, including Nike, advertisements and shifts have one purpose: to get your money.
Considering that, don’t burn your sneakers to make a point. Instead choose a different brand to support if you wish, or maybe re-buy a pair. Give it a couple years and the ad might placate your side of the aisle.