By Sam Cedar | Guest Contributor
Over the weekend, Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of the company’s 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign. The first advertisement rolled out by the company shows a picture of Kaepernick’s face with text overlay reading, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” However, between the two parties involved (Kaepernick and Nike), only the former has made any real sacrifice.
Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality, which have consisted of respectfully kneeling alongside fellow NFL players during the playing of the national anthem, have cost him far more than a job. Though he was recently awarded a trial in a hard-fought grievance against the NFL there are no guarantees that he will ever play in the NFL again. Additionally, he has been the victim of constant attacks by right-winged media sources and individuals on social media, many of whom view his protests as unpatriotic. This criticism has even come from as high-up as the White House. At a campaign rally in Huntsville, Ala., President Donald Trump referred to NFL players protesting police brutality during the National Anthem as “son[s] of [bitches]” and encouraged viewers to boycott the NFL until the league has banned the protests.
In response to the Nike campaign, Trump told the Daily Caller that backing Kaepernick sends a “terrible message” to the country. Though I disagree with his reasoning, I actually agree with his conclusion. The message sent by Nike through its agreement with Kaepernick is not one of courage or protest – it is one of profit.
The Wall Street Journal reported that in fiscal year 2017, Nike’s net income totaled 4.2 billion dollars. In fiscal year 2016, Nike CEO Mark Parker was paid 47.6 million dollars following his appointment as chief executive officer. Nike is a corporate giant tied closely to the free market, and I have a hard time believing that its decision to support Kaepernick – which occurred only days after the announcement that Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL would proceed to a hearing – is not motivated by financial gain.
Nike’s attempt to capitalize and profit off of a social justice movement trailblazed by the oppressed follows a disturbing trend in contemporary society. Alongside the rise of Black Lives Matter and “Me Too,” we’ve gotten insensitive and opportunistic advertisements attempting to use messages of racial conciliation and peace to drive up profits. One of the most prominent examples of this opportunism surfaced in April, when Pepsi released a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner leading a protest movement against racial intolerance by handing Pepsi cans to police officers.
Prominent social activist DeRay McKesson, who was a key organizer and protestor after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., told NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez that the ad “trivializes the urgency of the issues, and it diminishes the seriousness and the gravity of why we got into the street in the first place” by using the Black Lives Matter movement as a marketing strategy.
Regardless of Pepsi’s intentions for the advertisement, supermodels with soft drinks cannot solve the real issues of racial discrimination and police brutality. Problems such as police brutality perpetuated by neo-liberalist, capitalist systems of economics must be solved by people like Kaepernick with convictions and the courage to stand up for them. They cannot be solved by for-profit corporations like Nike that perpetuate inequitable economic distribution and speak out against issues of inequality only when they see the potential for financial gain.
Sam is a senior University Scholars major from Marion, Ill.