Nike Ad Creates Social Divide

Tyler Ory '21, Website Editor

     Nike released a new ad campaign in early September centered around the National Football League (NFL) Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, his protests of police brutality, and his struggle to be employed in the NFL.

     Beginning in the 2016 season, Kaepernick kneeled on the field while the national anthem played to protest police brutality against people of color. Fellow teammate and former 49’ers safety, Eric Reid, soon joined Kaepernick in his protest. As the season continued, more players from multiple teams joined in on their protest, uniting around ending police brutality.

     In the 2016 NFL off-season, both Kaepernick and Reid were released from the 49’ers and left as free agents. They were both left unsigned throughout the 2016 NFL offseason and 2017 NFL season. In October of 2017, both Kaepernick and Reid filed grievance lawsuits against the NFL for colluding with NFL owners to deny them a job with influence from President Donald Trump. Since this lawsuit, only Reid has been signed (with Carolina Panthers in early 2018 NFL season) to a professional team.

     Protesters of the lawsuits believe that because many players can go unsigned throughout a season, the league is not colluding against Kaepernick and Reid. However, statistics from Kaepernick and Reid’s 2016 season show that they were definitely good enough for a team to sign them and put them on their starting lineup. Nike’s new ad shed light on the struggle Kaepernick has endured due to his protest.

     The headline for Nike’s ad was: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” It is centered around the sacrifice Kaepernick made in continuing his protest even though he knew it would cause him to lose his job. Even now, it is lowering his chances of him being signed again by an NFL team.

     Nike’s ad was immediately controversial, with some opponents of the ad even going so far as to burn their Nike products. These opponents say that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to the American military. The proponents say that it has nothing to do with people in the military, and only relates to the protest of police brutality. Many people currently serving in the armed forces have come out to agree with the pro-Nike side, saying that they do not feel disrespected by the ad.

     Nike, who has typically been a politically neutral company, took a risk by presenting such a politically charged ad. Initially, it appeared Nike’s stock was going to perform poorly due to the reaction to the ad, but in the ensuing days after the ad’s release, Nike’s stock reached an all-time high of $86.04 per share. The rise of share price was likely due to the positive feedback the ad received by consumers and the effect it had on the company’s sales. Even though the overall response to the ad was positive, many groups still reacted negatively.

     One Alabama college, College of the Ozarks, dropped Nike as their athletic supplier as they “put country over company” and could not support a company that disrespected the United States veterans.

     Nike’s ad has definitely been controversial, but it appears that the risk Nike took in supporting Kaepernick’s protest has paid off, and will end with a favorable outcome for the company and the political movement.