Colin Kaepernick, Burning Nikes, and Capitalism 

Colin Kaepernick, Burning Nikes, and Capitalism by Elora Pindell

Nike unveiled a new ad campaign with the ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the star. The ad features a close-up of Kaepernick facing the camera, the photo tinted in black and white (a little on the nose, but ok). Across Colin’s beautiful face reads the phrase, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt”

 Photo from PBS.org

Photo from PBS.org

This was just last week, but the event has already spread another controversy sparking heated discussions, uninformed debates and good old fashioned hate speech regarding race and patriotism. Black people have been celebrating Kaepernick’s new coin, while hailing Nike as “woke” or “on the right side of history” when it comes to the state of racial tension in America. After all, it does take nerve to risk a fairly significant fraction of your demographic getting offended at one of your ads. With today’s cancel culture, one wrong move could cost any given corporation like Nike millions. I’m happy to see all the public support of my baby Colin Kaepernick.

If Nike anticipated this at all, they were right. Adamant “patriotic” protesters of Kaepernick have been burning their Nike gear, flooding social media with their cries of renouncing Nike, using #boycottnike whenever possible, and in a disturbing trend, going so far as to burn, cut and overall destroy their already-paid-for Nike gear. 

Despite the outcry from these (ex) highly disgruntled Nike customers, Nike has made about $43 million in revenue since announcing Kaepernick as their new spokesman. Nike’s stock is anticipated to soar exponentially despite the many people who claim they will no longer buy Nike gear, like, ever again. 

So! It seems like a happy ending. Black people and people of color have “won” this one; racists grumble at home and burn their hard-earned money while a powerful Black man with a powerful message stares at them on billboards all across America. So what’s the problem?

The problem is, we are giving Nike too much credit. We would do well not to hold Nike as a savior-type figure that will lead the way in helping Black people to proverbial freedom. Nike is still a corporation that is making the decision to use Kaepernick, and by extension, his message, for one reason — money. Nike is well aware that the innovators and protesters outweigh that of the conservative folk who throw capricious and child-like tantrums over their misguided and uninformed thoughts regarding Kaepernick’s peaceful protests

Activism is trending right now, and Nike has an entire team of people to keep them reminded of this. Each decision they make, for this campaign or the next one —  is a decision based on how much money they can gather from it. And it’s working.

It is becoming clear to corporations that activism pays. But for who? And for how long? When a board room of rich white folks are calling the shots on what is “woke” enough for their next ad, it is only a matter of time before reality misaligns with the money message. This parading of diversity for the sake of  selling shoes, shorts, hoodies and socks not only rings hollow, but harkens to mind another ad campaign that went South rather quickly. 



In 2017, model Munroe Burgdorf was signed with L’Oreal Paris UK as their very first trans model of color for a new line of foundation. However, things ended swiftly for Burgdorf when she was very honest about the reality of the racism she experiences in a candid interview. This was to be a campaign based in diversity; Burgdorf and her differences were to be celebrated (read: sold). But the moment Burgdorf’s diversity strayed from what L’Oreal wanted, she was promptly and publicly fired. Burgdorf faced backlash, angry television interviewers and guess what? More of the racism and sexism she was speaking against in the first place, all newly unemployed.

With Kaepernick being made to suffer further backlash while being debased with more name-calling and racist rants, I can’t help but feel that Nike is dangling Kaepernick above us to taunt the racists while acting as a carrot to the activists. “All publicity is good publicity” and Nike is definitely benefitting the better half of that old saying. 

Black Twitter and Instagram are, of course, making the best of the situation. Memes that mimic Kaepernick’s ad with different celebrities and their respective famous quotes ARE funny. More than a few have made me chuckle LOUDLY. But it all seems a little tone-deaf. As I read them, I can’t help but remember that controversy sells. Using celebrities we like to convince us to buy things we already want works

And yes, I know. There are too many corporations that openly support hate/hate speech that are still paid AF and don’t care if we like it or not. But Nike, I’m watching y’all. 



Tyreck FullerComment