Masin-Moyer: Kaepernick’s Nike deal can either be productive or suffocating
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Tuesday, September 11, 2018
As “The Star Spangled Banner” played on the speakers of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday afternoon before the Dolphins beat the Tennessee Titans, Miami wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson knelt.
It wasn’t the first time they’d knelt.
Stills and Wilson are two in a long line of players who have protested “[oppression of] black people and people of color” by kneeling during the anthem since 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.
After the 2016 season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract in order to re-negotiate a deal with the 49ers. He hasn’t been picked up by a team or played football since.
Even though he’s been sidelined from the NFL, Kaepernick hasn’t remained quiet.
But perhaps Kaepernick’s most visible public appearance since he left the 49ers happened this past week — when he was named the face Nike’s Just Do It campaign on the ad series’ 30th anniversary, a decision which has seen Nike’s sales go up 31 percent.
That controversy is not what I’m going to spend the rest of this column talking about. It’s been rehashed over and over again.
For what it’s worth, I think Kaepernick has every right to protest and is pretty brave to risk his football career and be tried in the court of public opinion to stand up for something he believes in.
Instead, I’d like to spend the rest of my precious words discussing the pros and cons of the deal for Kaepernick himself and what the deal means for the movement he started.
To start, this move gives Kaepernick and his movement greater visibility than before.
Nike is perhaps the dominant global sports brand, and its clients have become stars thanks to its marketing.
Think Michael Jordan, who became a global icon thanks to Nike. His fame grew to the point where Chinese school children ranked him as one of the two greatest figures of the 20th century.
If Nike can make Jordan an icon, it can make Kaepernick a figure with a global reach, especially when the ad itself is relatively uncontroversial and speaks generally about overcoming obstacles to become the best you can be.
With a greater audience comes greater pressure on those in power, and by gaining a global audience, Kaepernick can bring his message to new groups of people and gain access to the resources and voices which can help him push even further for change.
While the Nike ad certainly gives Kaepernick greater visibility, there is a chance his message becomes diluted as he becomes a spokesperson for the company.
As I mentioned in the previous section, Kaepernick’s message was diluted in the first Nike ad; if the ads continue to run down this path, he risks being seen more so as a spokesperson for the Nike way of life rather than the activist he has positioned himself to be.
There’s also an inherent issue in a major economic and cultural power like Nike taking ownership of a protest movement whose purported purpose is to fight against elite powers.
By taking part in this partnership, Kaepernick risks his message becoming synonymous with one of the sources of power which has caused the issues he is fighting against. This is especially concerning given Nike’s not-so-great record on human rights issues — they recently backed out of commitments to the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent organization which inspects factory conditions, and ignored complaints about sexual harassment from female employees.
If Kaepernick is to succeed in keeping his message alive, he needs to look to athletes who have mixed corporate fame with activism. LeBron James, who recently funded the construction of a public school in Akron for low-income students while being a Nike spokesperson, comes to mind as a model to emulate, even though there has been much greater scrutiny focused at Kaepernick than there ever has been at James.
If he can remain committed to his work — as James has — Kaepernick can keep his movement alive and continue to ensure that Stills, Wilson and others are not kneeling in vain.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.