I had a whole post written and ready to go. It was beautiful – personal, deeply emotional, and hopefully even a bit insightful. But, oh, then I saw this tweet.
In case you’ve been living under a tea tree plant — or just don’t follow American Rules Football — here’s the backstory. Colin Kaepernick is a former player who ignited a huge controversy during the 2016 preseason by kneeling during traditional pregame performance of The Star-Spangled Banner as a protest against racism and police brutality in the United States. Some saw it as a brave stand against injustice, some saw it as disrespectful to the sacrifice of U.S. troops.
Of course, the protest has spread far beyond Kaepernick, with more than 200 players joining in at various times. So it’s not just about one person, and it hasn’t been for a while. But Kaepernick has always been the public face of the protests, and the flashpoint of controversy. If you want to see rageful opinions flying from all directions, especially from conservatives, go to an NFL fan forum and just post “Colin Kaepernick” and nothing else.
After the 2016 season, Kaepernick elected to forgo his contract and become a free agent, eligible to be hired by other teams – and no other teams hired him. In November 2017, he filed a grievance against the NFL, claiming that owners colluded to keep him out of the league. On August 28, 2018, an arbitrator ruled that the case could go to trial.
Today’s announcement means that Kaepernick will be the new face of Nike’s ad campaign. He won’t be the only athlete featured, but he’ll be the most prominent. I think the campaign’s tagline is particularly poignant:
Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.
But of course, Kaepernick’s opponents would counter that “sacrificing everything” can mean more than a career as a football player.
So how should we react to today’s announcement?
First, let me be clear: I have supported the player’s right to protest, and I believe the issues they are protesting against are real and troubling to this country which I love. My thought today is:
In my mind, it all depends on exactly what Darren Rovell means by “Nike has been paying Colin Kaepernick all along.” Do they mean since it became clear he would not be signed by another team? Since the protests came to national attention? Or… do they mean since before the first time he kneeled?
This is either an incredibly brave stand by Nike… or it’s the most cynical PR stunt in the history of PR. And right now we don’t have enough information to know which it is.
I’ll update this post as we learn more.