Nike’s decision to feature ostracized quarterback Colin Kaepernick on a television advertisement smacks of the very same hypocrisy Kaepernick demonstrated by kneeling to protest the oppression of African Americans while the national anthem was being played before the start of National Football League games.
In the Nike advertisement, Kaepernick appears before a U.S. flag, which is reflected on the facade of a building behind him. As the camera pans in for a close-up, the words, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” are imposed across his face.
While Nike, like Kaepernick, claims to be taking the moral high ground in supporting the quarterback’s freedom of speech, the company’s history of major labor rights violations indicates that it cares much less about social justice than marketing gimmicks and profits.
Kaepernick’s protests began in 2016 when he lost his job as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback. At the time, he insisted that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people” and that the perceived mistreatment of African Americans that led to the Black Lives Matter movement was “bigger than football and it would be selfish on (his) part to look the other way.”
Unwittingly, Kaepernick sparked a fierce nationwide debate about the meaning of the anthem and the conduct of police in our communities when President Donald Trump suggested that players who do not stand during the anthem should be suspended or fired. Many NFL teams and players showed their support for Kaepernick and against Trump by linking arms, sitting or kneeling during the anthem.
As a result of the firestorm, Kaepernick has not been able to secure a job in pro football since. He considers himself “oppressed” and is suing the NFL for collusion in depriving him of a job.
On the contrary, Kaepernick’s protest was never about the national anthem or Black Lives Matter. It was about making himself relevant again after he lost his job as a starting NFL quarterback. Nor is the former 49er an “oppressed victim,” but rather the beneficiary of the good fortune this country and its institutions have bestowed upon him.
Kaepernick, who is bi-racial, was raised by white adoptive parents in rural Turlock, Calif. He grew up in a safe, diverse community with little to no racial turmoil or violence.
Selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, Kaepernick quarterbacked the team to the Super Bowl the following season and, in 2013, to the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers rewarded him handsomely in 2014 by signing him to a six-year, $126 million contract.
Kaepernick is a hypocrite for taking the millions that came his way over the first two years of that contract as well as for benefitting from the other opportunities afforded to him as a pro athlete and then having the audacity to disrespect this country and exploit the Black Lives Matter movement to keep his name in the headlines. Nor is Nike any better.
The company, valued at $29.6 billion, has been plagued by less-than-stellar labor relations since the 1990s. According to the Worker Rights Consortium Nike used sweatshops and child labor abroad to manufacture its products.
While co-founder Phil Knight, in 1998, promised to change the company’s practices, allegations of similar violations surfaced last year when students and activists around the world participated in a day of protest against Nike.
To be sure, the United States continues to struggle with issues of race and police brutality, but those problems can only be worsened by a spoiled former NFL player and a multi-billion-dollar corporation who are exploiting the suffering of others for their own financial again.
William Kashatus, Hunlock’s Creek, is a historian, educator and writer. Email him at [email protected]