Nike Raises Brand Authenticity with Colin Kaepernick

Typically, I won’t talk about current events unless it directly deals with me in some fashion. In the last couple of years, I’ve had a few folks come up to me and ask my opinion of the former 49er’s Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, kneeling during the national anthem.

Since all of these folks I talk to are my friends, we have a civil and great discussion about different perspectives. We both agree to things and disagree on other things with each other, but we stand fast to our beliefs and go about our way. No problem.

What’s my opinion on the whole matter?

Yes, I find Kaepernick is doing the work others have failed to do, even as a former United States Marine–but once a Marine, always a Marine–that proudly served honorably. I have no problem with the social good symbol Kaepernick is bringing to many Americans that never had to pay attention to the historical act of police brutality towards Blacks and African-Americans. I’m sure other racial groups have been victims, but I can only speak confidently about my race.

In the Marine Corps or any branch of service is the camaraderie and unity uniforms bring to the service members within a unit. Within the first few months (during boot camp) of being in, we didn’t wear civilian clothes. Everything that made us individuals was stripped away by choice and we agreed to become a Marine. In our mindset, that’s all that mattered. Towards the end of Boot Camp, we all started looking at driver’s licenses, the differences stood out and allowed everyone to talk with one another without a wall of defensiveness and/or divisive character attacks.

Seek to Understand, Not Judge

Towards the end of my active duty, I found myself hearing those conversations again but at another level of unity and camaraderie. As we were forced to live with each other 24 hours, 7 days a week, work together as a team, the personal biases faded away because we made time to understand. One of the biggest issues with our current climate is people are failing to understand what’s being said. A small choice with big ramifications. The basic skill of listening is being thrown out of the window.

In the military, we wanted to listen to each other because we actually cared about one another. We could still listen, disagree, and remain close without sacrificing our relationship. When Kaepernick started to silently protest, his message didn’t resonate with a lot of people because police brutality doesn’t happen in their neighborhoods. Even for myself, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and we didn’t have any of those issues. But because we currently live in a 24/7 news world with cameras to publish content anytime, the transparency has never been to this level of accountability.

Therefore, I had to talk about it with fellow marketing guru, Kent Lewis.  We talked about it in the podcast, along with other things. In Kent’s words, “Nike’s decision to fire some of their customers…” was point on for me, but also one of the first times I heard a white man stand up for a Black man’s right. Kent continued the discussion with a LinkedIn full article.

Here’s a snippet of it:

Nike’s Just Do It ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick: Brand Genius or Genocide?

On September 3rd, (Labor Day), Nike posted a new ad campaign celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Nike’s Just Do It campaign. The ad features unknown aspiring athletes as well as established elite Nike professional athletes (including Serena Williams and Odell Beckham Jr.), but what makes the ad remarkable is the former professional NFL quarterback who narrates and is featured briefly at the end of the ad. Former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, has become a martyr of sorts since October 2nd, 2016, when he became the first (black) professional athlete to kneel during the National Anthem. His appearance in the ad sparked a controversy that has clogged the social media feeds and press coverage the entire week. Contrary to conservative rhetoric, Kaepernick’s controversial actions are not rooted in a blatant disregard or disrespect for America or Americans.

Kaepernick, inspired in part by the suggestion of a fellow San Francisco 49ers (white) teammate and former veteran, started kneeling during the national anthem, to protest the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S., particularly around police brutality and social injustice. His highly visible action created an immediate firestorm, which was fueled as other teammates and teams followed suit. The NFL, government officials, and general (mostly white/caucasian) public denounced the action as un-American.

Signed by Nike in 2011, Colin Kaepernick hadn’t been featured in any major ad campaigns previously. The timing is not a coincidence of course. Kaepernick is on the tail end of winning a lawsuit against multiple NFL team for collusion (agreeing not to hire him because he was the first to kneel). He hasn’t worked since 2016, but his new undisclosed contract with Nike includes an apparel line for Kaepernick and a contribution to his charity, Know Your Rights.

Finish reading the article, go here, and check out all the links and images.

Enjoy the episode!

Nathan A. Webster, MBA