Whether you’re a fan of Nike or not, there’s one thing we can all agree on: They know how to create a viral marketing phenomenon. For their 30th “Just Do It” anniversary, Nike appointed controversial athlete Colin Kaepernick as the face of their campaign. Immediately both sides of the political spectrum have reacted—some with praise, while others were more heated, literally burning their previously acquired Nike merchandise. In 2018 when race goes hand in hand with sports, politics, sportswear and youth culture, the boycotting of Nike shows that, unfortunately, racism is still alive and well in America.
Everything started back in 2016 when Kaepernick, to the shock of viewers nationwide, kneeled while the National Anthem was being performed. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” the athlete was quoted saying. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” From receiving death threats to figures like Donald Trump criticizing the athlete, it marked the end of his career, yet the birth of a cultural movement.
And this all culminated into Nike’s firestorm of controversy. Once the campaign was released, fans and critics of the decision flooded social media. Country musician John Rich cut off the Nike logo from his socks, subsequently posting the result on Twitter. Other examples were by far more extreme. “You know how many other sneakers there are to buy,” Twitter user @sclancy79 says to the camera, while a pair of white sneakers burned in the background.
Just a simple hashtag search of #boycottNike presents an array of protests. And while many didn’t see a point in the destruction, saying the boycotters had already paid Nike, others voiced support for the sportswear giant.
Nike was quick to respond. "We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward," Gino Fisanotti, Nike's Vice President of Brand Marketing told ESPN.
Whether Nike had planned for this cultural response, conservative backlash only solidified the fact that in America, black communities and their rights are not a priority. Similar waves of anger were witnessed when Beyonce released Lemonade, and when #BlackLivesMatter first launched. Even though it’s easy to simply see these as isolated incidents, they all follow a similar trend: A conversation about black rights begins. Conservatives protest. Remember #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter? The media reports on it, then three weeks later, everything is forgotten.
Ultimately Nike’s sales will not be affected, if anything Nike will emerge a winner, solidifying its reputation as a supporter of black athletes. And though it’s easy to view this campaign as another controversy, we can’t ignore the bigger picture. Until we recognize these protests as an unabashedly racist, and not just angry consumers, we won’t make any progression culturally. Black art and culture have made monumental contributions in fashion, entertainment, and sports—it’s time we all take a knee.