DAVID MAROTTOLO ’22
For some, the take-a-knee movement may feel like old news. But the attention of many Americans has returned to the actions of the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, in response to a controversial Nike advertisement commemorating thirty years of the “Just Do It” campaign. Part of the ad features a black-and-white close-up of Colin Kaepernick’s face, with the phrase “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” superimposed; this references Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep him out of the league over his protests against police brutality. Some have praised the new ad, while others have denounced Nike for involving itself in what many see as a political issue. This prompted calls to #BoycottNike and led some individuals to propagate the #BurnYourNikes movement (a series of videos uploaded on social media sites showing various individuals destroying their Nike apparel). While many people may have already taken a stance on the advertisement and the adversarial hashtags, both Nike and the individuals responding negatively to the ad have acted inappropriately, without considering the good of the American public.
Let me be clear: this is not an article about Kaepernick’s lawsuit or the take-a-knee movement. As critical an issue as the original protest is, any discussion of Kaepernick’s claims or arguments over the take-a-knee movement would only lead the reader away from the central focus of this article: the involvement of Nike in a political and social-justice discussion.
The first, perhaps most basic, questions we must ask are whether the boycotting and burning of Nike products is justified. Justification for these protests hinges entirely on the perceived severity of Nike’s affront, which in turn stems entirely from one’s views on Kaepernick’s original actions. If one believes that Kaepernick’s actions are unpatriotic, then the Nike ad would be a perpetuation of his affront to the American people. If, however, one supports the take-a-knee movement, then Nike’s campaign is a positive sign of corporations promoting social change. Thus, there is certainly room for ambiguity in the matter of justification.
Regarding the effectiveness of these protests, the answer is far more apparent. The goal of any ad campaign is to draw attention to an organization’s or company’s products, and by posting their comments and videos on social media, members of the #BoycottNike movement are merely perpetuating this goal. Logically, Nike would never have released this advertisement if they did not fully expect it to return a financial profit. It should go without saying that destroying one’s own property is also inadvisable; Nike certainly is not incentivized to change its ad campaign based on the destruction of private property, property which one has already paid Nike to possess. And it must be remembered that there are an equal number of individuals inspired to buy Nike products after viewing the ad favorably. It is clear, therefore, that the trends #BoycottNike and #BurnYourNikes serve no practical purpose.
The broader context which must be examined is that of the role which international corporations (such as Nike) play in political and social issues. Debate rages over whether corporations have a role to play in these discussions, or whether such protests extend outside the range of their field of operation. While there is no restriction on corporations entering the political realm, it should be obvious that such companies rarely hold the moral interests of the American public in high regard. Nike is seeking to increase revenue, not inspire change. In this context, it would be prudent to examine Nike’s ulterior motives. Increasing revenue by means of a shocking advertisement campaign seems self-evident. The reader may also wish to reflect on Nike’s past issues with human rights issues, specifically the employment of underage workers in sweatshop-like conditions, in locations such as Vietnam or Honduras. The new Nike ad may well be an attempt at strengthening their stance on similar issues, and rectifying their past failings in the process. All of this may sound cynical; unfortunately, such cynicism is warranted in the face of Nike’s history with such actions.
In the end, there is no positive spin to be put on this story. Neither Nike nor its opponents have truly done “the right thing.” The advertisement and the opposition which followed merely perpetuate a cycle of criticism, netting Nike further revenue and giving voice to more individuals seeking to inflame the debate of Kaepernick’s original protest.