Nike has faced a cultural backlash in the United States this week after the launch of its latest ‘Just Do It’ advertising campaign which is voiced by NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick then with the San Francisco 49ers began the movement among elite NFL players of kneeling during the playing of the US national anthem ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in 2016 to protest police brutality and shootings of African Americans, 70% of NFL players are from this racial group.
The movement created much controversy around the nation given sport was becoming mixed with politics and not standing for the anthem was seen as disrespecting the nation and its history. Although sponsors and club owners stood by the players NFL attendances and ratings took a hit. As the protests continued into 2017 during Trump Presidency he joined the condemnation tweeting that owners should tell kneeling players “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!”
In a response to the backlash the NFL in May 2018 released a a new policy requiring all players to stand during the national anthem and if they did not then they were to say in the locker room during the national anthem. Kaepernick is now a free agent following his departure from the 49ers and has been able to find a new club. In November 2017 he filed a grievance suit against the NFL and its owners, accusing them of colluding to not hire him due to his activism.
Kaepernick’s current unemployment has the American left viewing him as a martyr for civil rights. He was named GQ magazine’s 2017 Citizen of the Year” and awarded the Amnesty International 2018 Ambassador of Conscience Award. Kaepernick has also pledged to donate one million dollars to “organizations working in oppressed communities” from his earnings.
Just Do It has been Nike’s slogan since 1988 and features famous sporting stars in their advertisements talking about their journey to glory. The choice of Kaepernick to voice the 30th anniversary of the campaign was not just controversial in itself but the fact that the advertisement was clearly preaching a social justice and identity politics agenda.
The advertisement features a range of identity and victim groups overcoming society’s injustices including the disabled, Muslims, transgenders and refugee sports stars. Women’s sports is promoted featuring a homecoming queen who is also a linebacker, the US Women’s soccer team are promoted as the greatest the sport as ever seen and also shown is female tennis star Serena Williams.
Other sporting stars featured in the ad are African-American basketballer LeBron James engaging in activism and sprinter turned soccer player Usian Bolt. The slogan of the ad is “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt” with Kaepernick saying it while looking at the American flag.
The response has been from some patriotic American consumers has been to burn their Nike products and vowing to boycott to company under the slogan #justburnit. President Trump weighed in with a tweet stating that Nike would now go down the same downward spiral the NFL has experienced by entering the political arena.
Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
In a sign that it wasn’t just another faux social media outrage Nike had $5 billion wiped from its bottom line with its shares down 3.2 per cent to $79.60 at the close on Wednesday as investors were spooked by the immediate backlash. It has bounced back the next day and now sits at $80.40.
Nike is standing by its advertisement and employing Kaepernick as its spokesperson with its vice president of brand for North America Gino Fisanotti stating “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”.
Nike’s promotion of social justice issues is just the latest corporation to engage in the practice of corporate virtue signalling on social justice issues which consumers both in the US and Australia have become all to used to. Despite there being more backlash to this Nike advertisement than usual it will probably still not deter other corporations choosing to get involved in political campaigns.