Nike, the venerable sports outfitter, has a new, somewhat controversial advertising campaign.
The company released a slate of new ads featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former San Fransisco 49ers quarterback, who sued the NFL for colluding to keep him off the field. Emblazoned over his face is the Nike mantra: “Just do it.”
As a player, Kaepernick, who is biracial, obtained notoriety for kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against racially-motivated police brutality. His form of peaceful dissent later expanded to other players and teams, reaching a peak last fall.
President Donald Trump, as well as many other conservatives, didn’t take kindly to what they saw as “disrespect” for the anthem and the flag.
Supporters of Kaepernick and the other protesters, however, felt the protests were being misunderstood. The kneelers weren’t objecting to the anthem, the flag or the men and women of the armed services. Rather, they were using their public celebrity to take a stand, by kneeling, on an issue of great importance and moral weight.
And now Nike has joined the fray.
Outraged by the company’s seeming support of anti-American activism, some consumers have taken to social media to express their disapproval. The hashtag #BurnNike spread, as did pictures and videos of Nike customers burning shoes, socks and other apparel.
Perhaps a larger number of Americans, however, have taken the anti-Nike backlash in stride, turning it into a meme of sorts.
Now it seems a backlash to the backlash is forming — and that’s just what Nike wants.
I’m sure it’s possible the men and women of Nike are genuinely using their corporate might to stand for what they feel is right, but I’m skeptical. I think it’s much more likely the company saw an opportunity to turn controversy into cash, and, like any smart business, decided to capitalize.
If recent sales figures are any indication, it seems to be working.
When this is all said and done, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nike’s 2018 earnings shoot through the roof. You’ve heard the adage there’s no such thing as bad press. That’s not always true, but it is here. With every anti-Nike tweet, the company receives free advertising, keeping its name in the headlines as society discusses, rants and raves over its latest stunt.
Now, it’s certainly Nike’s right to engage in whatever legal means of advertising it so desires, as it was the right of NFL players to kneel during the anthem. Just please, please, don’t try to tell me the company is suddenly a contender for liberal sainthood. This new play is just business, and Nike is playing the game as well as any capitalist corporation can.
Nike doesn’t care about social justice. It cares about its bottom line. And it seems perfectly willing to fan the flames of our social division to increase its earnings. ■