On Monday, Nike rolled out a new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who gained national attention when he began taking the knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. Nike’s new ad features a black and white photo of an unsmiling Kaepernick. The words written across his face read “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Kaepernick hasn’t played for the NFL since he became a free agent in 2017, but he continues to be in the public eye. Just last week, a judge ruled that Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL for alleged collusion can go forward. Nike’s new ad campaign has garnered a lot of attention, with people on both sides of the issue reacting intensely. Serena Williams, who also is a Nike spokesperson, tweeted that she is now “prouder than ever” to be part of the “Nike family.”
At the same time, many people, angry at what they see as Colin Kaepernick’s unpatriotic politics, have announced that they will boycott Nike. Here’s what you need to know about the #boycottNike movement:
1. People Took to Twitter Vowing to Destroy Their Nike Apparel — And Some People Did It On Camera
It didn’t take long for #boycottnike to start trending on social media. People angered that Nike had teamed up with Kaepernick said that they would be cutting the trademark “swooshes” off of their socks and throwing out their collections of Nike sneakers. One young man even burned his sneakers on camera. Backers of #boycottnike say they’ll never buy another pair of Nike sneakers or another piece of Nike gear again.
Meanwhile, plenty of people were taking digs at the #boycottNike followers for insisting on actually destroying their Nike clothing and sneakers — instead of donating it to a homeless shelter, or to people in need.
2. Boycotters Say They Feel Ignored and Dismissed by Nike’s Move
Boycotters seemed to be divided between feelings of anger and hurt over the Nike campaign. Many saw the ad campaign as a signal that Nike didn’t care about them as consumers, and was playing to liberals and elites instead. Many people seemed to see the Nike campaign as a line in the sand, or yet another indicator of a divided America.
“NIKE just pissed off half of America,” tweeted one angry social media user.
Another wrote, “Wow, so @nike just let half the population know that they don’t matter as customers.”
And another boycotter wrote, “Nike has chosen their side in this war.”
It’s telling that people are describing the Nike campaign as if it’s a battle in a larger culture war. And in fact, many of the #boycottNike tweets talk about feeling betrayed by a brand they’ve known, trusted, and invested in for years. In many cases, the people boycotting Nike are former loyal customers of the brand, who own not just one, but many pairs of Nike sneakers.
3. Boycotters Say Kaepernick Hasn’t ‘Sacrificed’ As Much As Soldiers and Police Officers
The words across Kaepernick’s face in the Nike ad read “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The word “sacrificing” is upsetting many people, who say that Kaepernick hasn’t sacrificed nearly as much as soldiers and police officers. Many people tweeted images of Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals defensive linebacker who quit to join the military after 9/11 and died in Afghanistan. Others put up pictures of coffins covered with American flags, seemingly to say that soldiers are the ones who make the “real” sacrifices.
Many people have also pointed out that Kaepernick is a rich and famous man, which makes it hard to see him as having sacrificed anything. “Someone with 40 million in the bank didn’t sacrifice a dam thing,” one user wrote. People are angry that Kaepernick called police “pigs” and that now he is “getting paid” for his anti-police message. A woman named Nancy wrote, “Seriously???? Colin Kaepernick has sacrificed EVERYTHING??? Where is he sleeping these days? What’s his bank account look like? What did he do with his $39 million? How many meals a day is he eating? This is such bulls***. #boycottNike”
4. Boycotters Say Nike’s Stock Is Going to Plummet Without Them
At last check, Nike’s stock was valued at $82.50 a share. The Street reports that Nike’s profit surged upwards by 30 percent this year, largely because of the high demand for basketball sneakers endorsed by LeBron James and other stars affiliated with the Nike brand.
Kaepernick is rumored to have plans for a line of Nike sneakers and apparel too, in addition to serving as the face of the brand. But The Street notes that it’s not clear yet whether he will help or hurt the brand’s financial success.
What’s clear is that boycotters are hoping their protest will bring Nike’s stock prices way, way down. People using the #boycottNike hashtag are urging their fellow protesters to buy Reebok, New Balance, or Adidas. And they’re also announcing, gleefully, that the boycott is going to make Nike’s stock prices plummet. It’s far too soon to tell what will actually happen, of course.
5. Until Recently, Athletes With Corporate Sponsors More or Less Had to Be Apolitical
It’s not especially new to have athletes expressing their political opinions. Back in 1968, Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their hands and raised their fists in protest as they stood on the Olympic podium to receive their medals. Muhammed Ali spoke about black power and resisted being drafted to fight in Vietnam.
But until recently, getting a corporate sponsor — like Nike — tended to mean that an athlete wasn’t going to speak out about politics. Take the case of Michael Jordan. Back in the 90s, Michael Jordan was a spokesman for Nike. He reportedly refused to endorse a black Democratic candidate who was running against Jesse Helms in his own home state of North Carolina — because, according to a much-repeated quote, “Republicans buy sneakers too.”
Now, it’s not certain that Jordan ever actually uttered those words. There’s a lot of debate around that. But what is certain is that people believed that corporate sponsorships were the end of political activism. It remains to be seen whether that’s still the case today.