This past week, Nike released an ad spotlighting former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” campaign. The ad, featuring Kaepernick in black and white, displays a short message. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The advertisement shocked some, offended others and inspired certain members of the American public.
In 2016, Kaepernick began to kneel during the National Anthem, resulting in much debate throughout social media. Kaepernick knelt to protest police brutality and unequal treatment experienced by members of the black community. Despite pressure from the NFL caused by lower viewer ratings and public threats, Kaepernick continued his career with the 49ers until opting out of his contract in 2017.
Kaepernick went through his free agency after 2017 without any interest from other teams, despite continuing a past deal with Nike. Many suggest that his unemployment came directly from his on-field protests. The renewed partnership with Nike, which not only features him but also donates to his “Know Your Rights” campaign, comes as a major development for the former pro-athlete.
In response to the ad, many social media users praised Nike. By supporting Kaepernick, many see the company as a progressive force supporting marginalized groups. This especially seems to be true amongst younger, more diverse generations, such as Millennials and members of Generation Z.
Despite the praise, Nike experienced great backlash from other sectors of the public, since many social media users think Nike is simply trying to profit off of the publicity the advertisement receives. Other consumers expressed offense by the implications of Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem. Many social media users have started a trending hashtag labeled #BoycottNike, which was used by almost 100,000 people just 24 hours after the advertisement was released. Some showed pictures of destroyed merchandise, while others began to make memes mocking the controversial ad. Twitter users who were offended by the Nike endorsement took pictures of themselves burning their Nike apparel in protest of the advertising campaign. Others criticize the company for past labor issues, including a lawsuit against Nike for claims of disparities in wages and sexual assault.
As the debate continues to rage on social media, Nike aired an extension of the ad during Thursday night’s Eagles vs. Falcons game. The commercial featured other athletes, such as tennis player Serena Williams, basketball player Lebron James and football player Odell Beckham Jr. The ad calls for the public to be greater than the expectations they have for themselves and to break through societal barriers, such as those set by gender, income and race.
Regardless of one’s opinion on the ads, Nike raises a long-standing debate that continues to polarize the United States. Perhaps through citizens’ shared love and enthusiasm for sports, dialogue will continue in order to reach common ground and bridge the ever-growing ideological gap.
Kelsey Bastien is a third-year student majoring in history. KB@wcupa.edu.