Companies all over the world have a goal to strive and make money. However, is making money the main objective for these companies or do they honestly want to influence society in a positive way? In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the famous NFL quarterback, refused to stand up for the U.S. national anthem to protest against police brutality and racism. His actions caused controversy in the media, even causing President Donald Trump to be infuriated by Kaepernick’s actions.
According to an article written in BBC News, “The US president called players who “disrespect” the US flag “sons of bitches” and called for them to be sacked.” (“Nike sales defy Kaepernick”, 2018). Two years after the incident in 2018, Nike announced that NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was going to be the face of the new “Just Do It” campaign ad. Soon after the announcement, people started burning their Nike shoes and gear because of the company’s decision. But was it ethical for a company like this to use such controversy to promote itself? The Colin Kaepernick Nike ad is an excellent example of why it is appropriate for a company to use a cultural controversy to serve a corporate agenda.
Kaepernick peacefully protested against violence and police brutality against those of colour in America. However, because of his actions, he has been unable to land an NFL contract since 2016. The NFL could have supported him in this protest but chose to do nothing about the controversy. Nike however, stepped in 2 years later and brought Kaepernick out of the darkness. The Nike collaboration was announced with a picture of Kaepernick looking into the camera with the slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” written on it. People were angry because they believed Kaepernick didn’t sacrifice anything and using him as the face of the ad was disrespecting all those who died fighting for their country. Chris Kyle, the wife of a legendary military sniper had this to say about Nike’s ad:
You want to talk about someone in the NFL sacrificing everything? Pat Tillman. NFL STARTING, not benched, player who left to join the Army and died for it. THAT is sacrificing everything for something you believe in. How about other warriors? Warriors who will not be on magazine covers, who will not get lucrative contracts and millions of followers from their actions and who have truly sacrificed everything. They did it because they believed in something. (Sherrill, 2018)
Many others also believed that Pat Tillman deserved to be the face of the ad. An unofficial recreation of the ad was created by the media with pictures of him, who, unlike Kaepernick, died fighting for America. However, Chris Kyle was not entirely correct in those comments. Although many sacrificed everything for what they believed in, Kaepernick sacrificed his entire career just by kneeling during the national anthem. He was one of the greatest quarterbacks in history and many wore his jersey across America.
Despite that, Kaepernick believed in equality and gave up all of his fame and success to protest against what was happening in America. Thanks to a company like Nike, he was allowed to redeem himself and be portrayed as a hero for what he did by protesting against police brutality in America. The video ad that Nike uploaded on the internet was quite the deal. The message of the ad was to chase your dreams no matter how crazy they seem or what others thought. This ad portrays Kaepernick as a hero because of how much he sacrificed just to achieve equality. Nike helped him by giving him a platform where he can share his powerful message with the world.
Not only did Nike’s ad give Kaepernick a platform to share his message, but the message also inspired and influenced many people. Marina Hyde who wrote a blog in The Guardian thinks otherwise: “It is always about selling sportswear, even when it’s really, really not. That’s what multibillion publicly traded corporations such as Nike do. And that’s fine! Unless we’re very naive, we know where we are.” (Hyde, 2018). She believes that Nike’s true motive was to get money out of using Kaepernick. Although this may or may not be true, it is important to consider the great impact this ad had on society. According to an article written in BBC News, “[Nike’s] Online sales grew by 31% in the bank holiday weekend after the ad launched” (“Nike sales defy Kaepernick”, 2018). This evidence shows that Nike has a large audience of people.
By using Kaepernick’s face in this advertisement, Nike was able to make money while at the same time displaying an inspirational message to the world that grabbed many people’s attention. The same article states that the “performance from Sunday 2 September to 4 September – which included the Labor Day bank holiday Monday – was better than the same period last year when online sales grew 17%.” (“Nike sales defy Kaepernick”, 2018). If Kaepernick’s message wasn’t inspirational, then the percentage of online sales wouldn’t have increased as much. I can infer that Kaepernick had a significant role in this. His message reached millions around the world and people were influenced by what he said. Nike even stated that “Kaepernick was “one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation”” (“Nike sales defy Kaepernick”, 2018).
Throughout this whole controversy, Nike did not directly state what side of the issue it was on. Nike simply used the message “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” to attract customers. Any company wanting to make money would do the best it can to persuade people to buy its items. In this circumstance, Nike did that by using Kaepernick’s face to convey a message that people could relate to. Everyone has dreams. Some may have small dreams but others may have big or even crazy dreams. I believe that Kaepernick played a huge role in the ad’s influence on society.
Other than the other factors mentioned in this essay, Kaepernick’s intentions to protest were valid. Many police officers in America and other parts of the world were killing people simply because of the colour of their skin. What Kaepernick did on the football field when he kneeled down during the anthem was powerful, yet peaceful. Nike indirectly supported Kaepernick by using him in the ad which attracted not only those who resonated with the message about chasing your dreams but those who believed what Kaepernick believes; killing people based on their skin colour is wrong.
Kaepernick’s bravery to this day is remembered. Kurt Streeter, a writer for the NewYorkTimes stated that “his kneeling objection during the playing of the national anthem has boomeranged through the choppy slipstream of the American consciousness” (Streeter, 2020). The article also states that “some demonstrators say they have had Kaepernick and his campaign in mind when kneeling” (Streeter, 2020). This information shows that Kaepernick has impacted many people in society, especially regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
In conclusion, there is no proof that Nike’s ultimate goal was to only make money by using Kaepernick’s face as an advertisement, but it is evident that Nike has played a vital role in spreading Kaepernick’s message to the world. He was given a platform where he inspired the world and his bravery on the field has had a lasting impact on society. Nike has assisted him in making his dream come true. For these reasons, I believe it is appropriate for a company to use a cultural controversy to serve a corporate agenda as long as the widespread of positive awareness outweighs the financial gain.
Hyde, Marina. “Nike’s Commercial Cynicism Is Clear but Colin Kaepernick Ad Is a Sign.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Sept. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2018/sep/05/nike-colin-kaepernick-advert.
“Nike Sales Defy Kaepernick Ad Campaign Backlash.” BBC News, BBC, 10 Sept. 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45472399.
Sherrill, Russell. “‘American Sniper’ Wife Ends Silence, Goes Directly After Nike And Kaepernick.” KSEV Radio, 6 Sept. 2018, https://ksevradio.com/american-sniper-wife-ends-silence-goes-directly-after-nike-and-kaepernick/.
Streeter, Kurt. “Kneeling, Fiercely Debated in the N.F.L., Resonates in Protests.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Aug. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/05/sports/football/george-floyd-kaepernick-kneeling-nfl-protests.html.