Nike's Blood Money

Failed NFL quarterback and successful anti-police activist Colin Kaepernick is now the star of a Nike Inc. advertising campaign that reads: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it." It's enough to make you retch.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Editor David Griffith (Photo: Kelly Bracken)Editor David Griffith (Photo: Kelly Bracken)

Failed NFL quarterback and successful anti-police activist Colin Kaepernick is now the star of a Nike Inc. advertising campaign that reads: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it." It's enough to make you retch. It's certainly enough to have some Nike products leaving my home and heading for donation to hurricane victims.

There are two parts to this ad: belief and sacrifice.

The ad is Nike's declaration that it has signed on to the beliefs of Colin Kaepernick. And here's what he believes:

American law enforcement officers are racist and brutal and they should be insulted as "pigs." Cop killers like Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) should be honored and little black girls should be taught to follow in her radical footsteps. Failed NFL quarterbacks can render better judgment on officer-involved shootings than trained investigators and use-of-force experts just by absorbing journalistic accounts of what happened and listening to propaganda. All killings of black and Hispanic suspects by law enforcement are "legal lynchings," regardless of the circumstances. Finally, young black men have much more to fear from police than from criminals.

I could refute each of these beliefs, but I just don't have the space or the energy. And it would be preaching to the choir. You already know the answers. I will say this, though: Kaepernick and his followers use grains of truth—such as the fact a very small number of officers are racist and/or brutal and some police use of force is suspect—to condemn the entire profession. It's the worst kind of stereotyping, and I believe it is getting officers, criminals, and innocent people killed.

Which begs the question of why Nike would sign on to this movement and help Kaepernick espouse these distortions of the truth. Was it a political decision or a business one? From a business standpoint, the company took it on the chin the week it announced its Kaepernick campaign. People burned Nike products; others swore to never buy them again; the National Association of Police Organizations declared a boycott; the Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement calling the campaign an "insult;" and conservative pundits produced opinion pieces slamming the company. Consequently, the company's stock dipped. Unfortunately, it all turned around quickly. Nike stock is now at a record high and the company is moving much more Swoosh-bearing products than it ever has before.

Nike launched this campaign because it realized two things: Kaepernick is popular with a large segment of society who think he represents the "resistance" to Donald Trump, and you can't buy the kind of publicity this stunt generated. Nike clearly believed there was money to be made in appealing to young people who hate Trump and believe Kaepernick is a hero, even if it royally pissed off its more conservative customers. This may have been the most cynical and successful marketing move in history.

Which brings me to the discussion of the second part of that abhorrent ad. Sacrifice. Did Kaepernick sacrifice anything? You could argue he sacrificed his NFL career for his beliefs and activism. But it was a career on a downhill trajectory anyway. And any money he has lost as a result of failing in his professional football career he has more than made back in his contract with Nike. So I would argue Kaepernick has not lost anything for his beliefs.

One of the most popular conservative responses to the Nike ad was to superimpose the ad's copy about sacrifice over photos of flag-draped caskets of military and law enforcement heroes. It's a valid commentary; the men and women killed in service to this country have strong beliefs and have made great sacrifices. They and their families sacrificed for their beliefs, not some journeyman professional athlete who stereotypes police.

I believe Nike is collecting blood money from this ad. And I say that because it helps perpetuate the slander that all law enforcement officers just want to murder minority suspects with impunity. That is repugnant. Worse, it instills a fear in African American offenders that police would rather kill them than arrest them. Which is a dangerous lie. Already we are seeing more and more young black men who are willing to shoot it out with law enforcement over minor offenses. And I believe that is a direct result of the propaganda that Kaepernick helps spread and Nike is now profiting from.

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