Colin Kaepernick and Nike’s legacy of social campaigns

The University of Oregon and Nike have more than Phil Knight in common. Dan Wieden, the man who coined the phrase “Just do it” in 1988, is also a University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication alumnus.

The classic Nike slogan, which has been printed in block lettering on sweatshirts and backpacks for years, was slung into headlines earlier this month when Nike revealed the controversial 30th-anniversary ad featuring social justice advocate and ex-NFL star Colin Kaepernick.

The ad is black-and-white and features a close-up of Kaepernick’s face with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

It may be too soon to tell how the simple ad will reflect back on the University, said marketing professor Troy Campbell, who also works to help sportswear companies become more inclusive, but didn’t have a hand in the Kaepernick ad.

The ad is a direct reference to Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL, in which he is alleging that NFL teams colluded to keep him off the field and out of the draft after his consistent kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016-2017 NFL season in protest of police brutality.

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in 2016 after he first kneeled, according to Bustle. “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.”

Kaepernick first took a knee during the anthem in August of 2016 when he was playing for the San Francisco 49ers in a game against the Green Bay Packers. His then coach, Chip Kelly, who served as head coach of UO football from 2007 through 2012, supported his protest, according to NFL Media.

The ad, which has elicited strong reactions from both supporters and critics of the Black Lives Matter movement, has been called a bold political move by many, but Campbell says that from a business perspective, it was a logical move.

“Big companies tend to follow social trends rather than create them,” Campbell explained. “Nike is following the moral compass and directionality of America.”

It isn’t the first move Nike has made for social justice. Nike released a video campaign in 1995 advocating for girls sports and Title IX and has been advocating for LGBTQ+ equality with rainbow Be True gear for several years, and last December, Nike launched its first athletic hijab so that Muslim women can uphold their traditions while still participating in sports.

Still, Campbell said this ad has at least two types of passionate critics.

Many who claim they are boycotting Nike, some of whom have taken videos of their burning shoes, are doing so because they oppose Kaepernick’s protest. Critics, including President Donald Trump, have expressed that the protest was disrespectful to the national anthem, the flag, the armed forces and the country itself.

Trump, who has spoken about this protest a number of times, has gone so far as to say that Kaepernick, and other athletes who have joined him in protest, should be fired.

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,” Trump said at a rally in Alabama in 2017, according to the Washington Post.

Last year, Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen explained why he thinks the protest is offensive.

“What these players don’t seem to understand is that Americans gave their lives so that they could have the freedom to play a kid’s game for a living. When players disrespect the flag, they disrespect that sacrifice. And it would not matter if they had done so to protest Donald Trump or Barack Obama — their actions would be equally offensive,” Thiessen wrote in his September 2017 editorial.

“If NFL players want to protest the president, they have plenty of other ways. Attend a rally. Speak out on Twitter. Tell the media after the game, ‘I stood up for America but I stand against Donald Trump.’ But don’t show contempt for the flag.”

There are also proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement who are critical. Some say that the ad, specifically the video component, is watering down Kaepernick’s message and negating the revolutionary aspect of the protest.

“For all you people who think Nike is not going far enough right now, instead of tweeting why Nike sucks, why not tweet somebody who isn’t doing enough, and invite them to do more and show them how to do it,” Campbell said. “If you care enough to write on social media that you think Nike isn’t doing enough, then hopefully you care enough to help someone in your life to take that next step forward.

Campbell explained that although it is too soon to tell, there is still a good chance that the Nike ad will be productive for the social justice movement.

“[The ad is] taking a revolutionary concept and it’s fusing it with an incredibly dominant ideology in America which is Nike’s Just Do It, be yourself, very rugged American vibe,” Campbell said. “When people see this, they will no longer see Black Lives Matter as in conflict with advancing America.”

Campbell said that the message to UO students and Nike-wearers all over has changed. “If you’re wearing Nike, you’re part of this movement, you’re part of Black Lives Matter. You’re part of it, so when you see an opportunity to act, you will act,” he said.

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Olivia Sanchez

Olivia Sanchez