Nike Takes a Knee


An image from Kaepernick’s “Just Do It” campaign with Nike.

Maggie Brown, Writer

Back in 2017, Colin Kaepernick, a 49ers quarterback, inspired a wave of controversy after kneeling during the national anthem. Though the gesture was meant to nod to injustice towards African Americans, many began to question Kaepernick’s respect for the country. Fast forward to September 3rd – Nike made the influential activist the face of their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. Kaepernick was front and center in a TV ad as well as a billboard.

Long-time fans of Nike aren’t having it. Twitter sports videos of people burning their Nike products, cutting the logos off of their clothes in protest. A widespread Nike boycott has swept the nation. Is it truly justified? “I think it’s a bit of an overreaction,” said Lily Hughes, sophomore. However, she elaborated, “There are better ways to have your opinion heard. I understand that this is freedom of speech, but that doesn’t justify using your job[…]to speak up. Instead, [Kaepernick] could use his online platform.”

Are the protests actually making a dent in Nike’s sales? Sarah Arafat, Bob Jones junior, said that she is now “more probable to choose Nike over other brands.” She’s not alone; according to statistics, the company’s Labor Day sales have actually gone up in comparison to last year’s. Even as waves of angry calls hit Nike headquarters, activists and athletes are now rallying around Nike more than ever.

What, at the heart of the matter, makes Americans boycott? “Boycotts should be for topics that affect real people, much like the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a protest against discriminatory policies,” said Thomas Teper, a junior. “Kneeling to bring awareness about issues that affect many Americans is not un-American.” The protests have not been as successful as past boycotts on Starbucks and Target, which concerned refugee employment and transgender bathroom policies respectively. Efforts to boycott Amazon after subpar working conditions surfaced were minimal at best, and while Nike itself had reported issues with worker abuse, no one boycotted their goods at the time.

The Nike boycotts and original NFL protests call to question the appropriateness of free speech. The beauty of America lies in its stunning diversity, both in theory and in practice. One person may interpret a campaign as the collapse of modern society, and another might see it as a step in the right direction. When drawing these conclusions, however, Americans are likely to believe the first thing they see. If we are to survive the tumultuous mix of skewed opinions and fake credentials, we must make it our duty to know the facts – even if we don’t like what we see.