With Kaepernick On Board, Is Nike Choosing A Side?

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Like you, I saw that Nike decided to put unsigned NFL player Colin Kaepernick on ads commemorating the 30-year anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign. The announcement owned social media all day Monday, as much of the known sports and political commentators chimed in, as did their followers.

I browsed comments on Twitter and identified three distinct groups speaking on the situation.

Group One: The Anti-Kaep/Anti-Kneelers.

These are the people who were/are staunchly against Kaepernick’s and others’ pregame kneeling. They’re also, for whatever it’s worth, mainly conservative Trump supporters, and felt a need to publicly announce that they were done buying or wearing Nike products. One even cut the swooshes off his socks.

Many others in Group One ventured to guess how much money Nike stood to lose by showing any level of support for Kaepernick.

Why Group One is Overestimating Its Value To Nike

They’ve overestimated their value to Nike.

These anti-Kaep people who burn, throw away, or donate their Nike gear and refuse to buy Nike are no different from the famous (and not-famous) people who vowed to move out of the country if Donald Trump won the Presidency: It sounds good, and will garner some social media applause, but in the long run,

  1. You probably won’t follow through on it, and
  2. Even if you do, not as many people will care as you think.

Nike is about athletes. The most visible sport and athlete out there in America today is basketball, the NBA. The most visible and popular guy in the NBA is LeBron James. Nike pays LeBron James as an endorsee, and pays LBJ maybe more than they pay anyone else. LeBron has made his thoughts clear re: President Trump. To the best of my knowledge, no one at Nike has asked LeBron to tone it down when it comes to causes and politics.

Basketball is dominated by Black athletes. Most of the NBA — hell, even the coaches — have bashed Trump to varying degrees. If there’s a current NBA player who has publicly supported Trump, that story missed my attention (though I think it’s nearly impossible that there aren’t a few NBA players who do so privately).

The point: Nike is heavily invested in a sport that’s mostly Black. Most famous Blacks who’ve spoken on Colin Kaepernick have been in support of the guy.

If you’re mad that Nike has aligned itself with Kaep, you’re late to the party. This ain’t new. If you’re pretending that Nike supporting Kaep and Kaep supporters is news to you, I don’t believe you.

Group Two: The Pro-Kaep/Pro-Kneelers.

These are the Kaep fans who celebrated the ad reveal as a point for “their side” — Nike is standing with Kaep!!

To Group Two, Nike is, ostensibly, co-signing kneeling, black fists and everything else Kaep represents to them. To Group Two, Nike is pro-Black, down for the cause, and not afraid to “speak out.”

We’re finally getting ours! Great job Nike, so glad you’re not afraid to be about something important!!

Well, not exactly.

Why Group Two is Off The Mark

Kaep supporters who think this whole thing means Nike is down for some cause and all about Colin Kaepernick and his supporters, are short-sighted and need to think a level or two deeper on this.

Nike is not human.

I mean that literally: Nike is a corporation that made $36.4 billion in revenue fiscal year 2018. Corporations are run by shareholders (owners) who, while they may want to make an impact on the people and make the world a better place in the process, overall (in my opinion) want to make money.

Corporations don’t have feelings or opinions. They have balance sheets and accountants, and shareholders to please. If it doesn’t make (dollars and) cents to a shareholder, it doesn’t make sense, period.

Nike has simply calculated what standing with Kaep would be worth to them, and has placed a bet that using Kaep will be profitable. Kaepernick was already a Nike athlete, having signed with the company back in 2011. Nike kept him signed through the kneeling situation and subsequent unemployment, deciding to finally utilize his likeness (and announce their never-ended endorsement deal) for the current campaign.

Nike has theorized that galvanizing Kaep fans will —

  1. Garner attention, which, in today’s world will…
  2. Make money. And in turn,
  3. What they lose from the anti-Kaep crowd (Group One) who abandons Nike, will be more than made up for with what they gain from the pro-Kaepers who are happy to see Colin on Nike ads and actually believe this is a political/cultural statement by Nike (Group Two).

While it technically is a political statement (you could make anything look political if you try hard enough— though it isn’t hard to see in this one), it’s much more a business move than anything else. Expect to see much Kaepernick/Nike PDA through the holiday season 2018. As long as the campaign doesn’t move the needle backwards for Nike, they’ll keep it up into 2019; it’s free goodwill with their core base of customers. If it becomes a net loss for Nike, however, you won’t see any more of Kaepernick.

Nike is the same company who ran an Equality campaign not too long ago, which to me was a complete joke. What the hell does a billion-dollar company know about equality? Inequality — in business — is exactly why Nike is as dominant as it is. They don’t want it to be fair — and it isn’t.

Nike preaching Equality is like the most muscle-bound guy in your local gym selling “Lift In Moderation” t-shirts.

What’s crazy (but not really, when you think about it) is how many people bought into that one.

Nike doesn’t care about Trump, right or left wing politics, kneeling, the plight of Black folks, or speaking out for what’s right anywhere close to how much Nike cares about their business’ bottom line. Kaep + Nike is a money-maker. If and when it’s not, Kaep + Nike will be over, just like that.

It’s not personal. Just business.

Group Three: Seeing this for what it actually is.

I’m in Group Three. My first thought upon seeing the news wasn’t about kneeling or the NFL or what type of political statement Nike was choosing to make. It was what I still see it as: Nike doing what Nike does and making a calculated business move.

I’m not on either side of the kneeling issue.

There was no rule or law being broken when Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee; no rule or law was broken when none of the teams in the NFL chose to sign him the following season. Everyone acted within their rights.

I’m glad that Nike is dealing with Kaep, though, for three reasons.

  1. It gives us all something to talk about. Hence this article.
  2. Nike gets attention to their brand. I’m an athlete. I like Nike. I own thousands of dollars worth of Nike gear, and will spend thousands more on Nike stuff as long as I’m alive to do so and they keep making quality stuff.
  3. Colin Kaepernick gets paid. I’m not a big football watcher, but from most accounts I’ve seen, Kaep is good enough to have a job in the NFL. If the question is if Kaep is out of the league because of his kneeling, my answer is an unequivocal YES. I’ll also make clear that an NFL owner is not necessarily wrong for avoiding the media circus that is sure to follow Kaep should he ever rejoin the NFL. No team owner should be forced/shamed into signing Colin. Kaep made his choice; the owners made theirs. He’s not wrong, and neither are they. And, being that this is all business, if Nike wants to pay that man, dammit, they can — and he can cash the checks. Win-win.

As for the ad itself:

Sacrifice: An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

Colin Kaepernick did not sacrifice his NFL career. He lost his career. He’s suing the NFL for colluding to keep him out.

Sacrifice would be, I’m done playing in the NFL because this cause is more important. That didn’t happen. I’m not saying that Colin needed or needs to do that; I’m saying that’s what sacrifice sounds and looks like. Pat Tillman sacrificed his NFL career. Kaepernick did not. The wording of the ad itself is disingenuous and factually incorrect.

But it doesn’t matter. Very few people, myself included, are factoring that into whether they’re buying or wearing more Nike.

Nike is betting that we Just Do It.

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