In siding with Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who knelt during the national anthem in protest at violence and injustice toward African Americans, the company has made a strong statement to the league whose jerseys it makes.
One reading of the decision to re-sign Kaepernick, as the New York Times reported, despite his absence from the NFL, is as a nod towards brand purpose. Gino Fisanotti, a Nike vice president of brand for North America suggested that the move was about emphasising the wider cultural impact of sport.
“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” he said.
But the deal goes further: according to sources familiar with the agreement, Nike will produce clothing and footwear with Kaepernick’s name, and if the products sell well, the deal could rival those of other top NFL players. Additionally, the company will donate to Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights campaign.
“While the NFL and its owners have been trying to contain the issue,” wrote the USA Today columnist Nancy Armour, “Kaepernick and the other players have been playing the long game. The civil rights protests were wildly unpopular when they were occurring … but are now viewed as righteous and essential to our ongoing struggle for equality.”
The ad’s message makes reference to Kaepernick’s protest, beginning in 2016, when after first sitting on the bench he began to kneel rather than stand during the national anthem, telling NFL media: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
What followed was typical of America’s febrile cultural situation, as some viewers boycotted the NFL and the president’s tweets on the subject made the protest a national political issue.
When, after the 2016-17 season, his contract ended with the 49ers, Kaepernick was not picked up by any other team, leading to a widespread perception that he had been ‘blackballed’ by the league.
In November of 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the league alleging collusion on the part of NFL owners. Last month, an arbitrator overturned NFL requests that the complaint be dismissed, suggesting sufficient evidence exists that Kaepernick’s case will be heard in court.
Sourced from the New York Times, CNN Money, NFL Media, Know Your Rights, USA Today; additional content by WARC staff