Leutz: A Country on Its Knees
Why you should be mad at Nike.
Nike made headlines this past month by introducing Colin Kaepernick as the face of its newest advertising campaign — “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” the campaign’s slogan declares. It illustrates how Kaepernick sacrificed his career in the NFL to protest police brutality and social inequality by kneeling during the national anthem. The release of the Kaepernick ad on Instagram shattered Nike’s previous record views on any post by the millions. Not all viewers double tapped, however, and while Nike’s sales surged in the days following the release of the ad, videos of Nike apparel being torn apart and burned went just as viral.
Many still don their swooshes with pride. Others see Nike’s support of Kaepernick as unpatriotic. I find both sides to have inherently flawed reasoning. People should be angry at Nike, but not for their support of Kaepernick.
I find the current protests against Nike, demonstrated on social media by burning apparel and slashing swooshes, to be ridiculous for a variety of reasons. I will highlight the most obnoxious of these. First, in order to burn Nike clothes, or cut the swooshes out of them, one must first purchase that apparel. At the end of the day, Nike is a business, and they don’t care what the consumer does with their gear after checkout. Go ahead, buy out an entire Nike store front and start a bonfire to demonstrate disapproval of the company to which you just gave thousands of dollars in business.
Boycotting the purchase of Nike’s clothing certainly makes a lot more sense if you truly find Nike’s sponsorship of an athlete who chose to kneel for the anthem so unpatriotic. But who will you get your shoes from now? Nike’s primary competitor is Adidas. While Adidas didn’t sign Colin Kaepernick to an advertising deal, they have released countless collaborations with singer and producer Pharrell Williams. At a charity event this past year in Charlottesville, Virginia, Williams knelt in front of the crowd in solidarity with NFL players who chose to kneel during the national anthem. In doing so, Williams shouted, “Can’t nobody tell me what to do if I want to get on my knees right now.” When asked about the demonstration after his concert, Williams stated, “That’s what this flag is for.” Adidas continued their sponsorship of Williams, releasing countless colorways of his wildly popular shoe line. Nike has recently been more public about its support of athletes who chose to kneel during the national anthem. However, its competitors are following suit, thus dwindling the logical athletic apparel options for those who deem such support “unpatriotic.”
One of the most vocal members of the frustrated and flawed anti-Nike ad camp was President Donald Trump. Trump has always forcefully disapproved of kneeling during the anthem, and he was quick to give his opinion on the advertisement campaign by tweeting, “What was Nike thinking?” While I disagree with Trump’s strong opposition to the protests of Kaepernick and many others, I echo his most recent tweet. What were you thinking, Nike? What were you thinking when your production facilities turned into inhumane sweatshops in which you employed children hardly old enough to tie their own shoes? What were you thinking when you sent Phil Knight to promise us that he would put an end to these workplace injustices? What were you thinking when similar allegations re-emerged in 2017 and the Worker Rights Consortium forced you to shut down production plants across the globe? I am furious at Nike, as global citizens all should be, but not for the same reasons as President Trump. Now is the time when fervent patriotism has become petty, and tangible issues at hand need to be addressed by both sides. Patterns of police brutality and workplace injustice must be addressed by those opposed and in support of the Nike ad, respectively.
I support the Kaepernick ad. The NFL’s rule that outlaws kneeling during the anthem is a clear violation of first amendment rights. However, I do think that liberals should hesitate to praise Nike when the primary outcome of this advertising campaign is publicity for the brand — not change. If Nike actually wants to make tangible social progress, it should bring home the jobs lost in Vietnam and Honduras, where production facilities were shut down. If Nike truly is so committed to the community beyond the shelves, it should employ eligible Americans to produce their shoes in acceptable working conditions. The company would take a massive economic hit in doing so, but after all, aren’t we supposed to “believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”?