By Duke Staff
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” reads the black-and-white Nike ad, featuring the face of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick that went viral across the Internet this week, inspiring a range of intense emotions across the country.
Just over two years ago on Sept. 1, 2016, Kaepernick, then of the San Francisco 49ers, shocked the nation by taking a knee during the national anthem. What followed was a swirl of controversy that engulfed the country — driven by the NFL, veterans, social justice activists and even the President of the United States — but failed to address why Kaepernick kneeled in the first place.
Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee in place of participating in the national anthem preceding a sporting event was to protest police brutality against African Americans. However, throughout the public discourse that followed, his actions were twisted into a separate narrative constructed by conservatives and the alt-right. They made him out to be disrespectful to the flag, to veterans and active duty military personnel, and to everything our country stands for.
These contrived accounts of Kaepernick’s motivations purposefully and significantly overshadowed his original intentions, and served as a vehicle for the political agenda set by President Trump and a large portion of his base.
While campaigning for Luther Strange in Alabama last September, Trump made Kaepernick’s actions major theme of his stump speech, calling out NFL executives by stating “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” which garnered raucous cheers and applause from the crowd.
His career in the NFL is essentially finished due to the pitiful mix of cowardice and collusion from team owners too afraid to stand up to the President and his base. Yet, Kaepernick has continued to work for social change, donating more than $1 million to 41 different charities, according to Forbes.
Now, Nike’s bold decision to launch an ad campaign featuring Kaepernick deserves to be applauded. As the first company to publicly stand behind the controversial activist, Nike is potentially risking their public image and commercial success by putting Kaepernick on payroll, so it is clear this decision was not made lightly.
While the company has a questionable human rights record, signing Kaepernick shows a willingness to support a worthy cause. Since Kaepernick took a knee in 2016, the issue of police brutality has not disappeared or even improved – just look at the Antwon Rose shooting in Pittsburgh this past June.
Hopefully, Nike can serve as a worldwide platform for Kaepernick to once again share his message of equality. Attempts by President Trump, right-wing activists and others to silence his and other NFL players’ peaceful protests have continually failed, and having Nike come down on the right side of history adds an important ally.
This ad campaign is something that Americans should be proud of. National dissent against unfair treatment and brutality has a lengthy history in our country – from Sam Adams’ revolutionary midnight raids to the pair of raised African American fists at the 1968 Olympics. Kaepernick is another brave example of this purely American tradition of “sacrificing everything” for a better future.