Need to Know: Nike Kicks Off NFL Season With Colin Kaepernick Ad, Sparking Protest
The free agent quarterback wasn’t on the field for Thursday’s NFL season opener, but Kaepernick’s continued social activism still took center stage.
Published on September 7, 2018

Photo via Karen Civil

The 2018 NFL season got started Thursday night with a low-scoring battle between last year’s Super Bowl winners the Philadelphia Eagles and the visiting Atlanta Falcons. But while Philly diehards reveled in the aftermath of their team’s first-ever championship, football fans watching at home were once again confronted with NFL free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s years-long protest against police brutality and institutional racism. 

The face of Nike’s newest advertising campaign, a 30-year anniversary celebration of the brand’s famous “Just Do It” tagline, Kaepernick was featured in a two-minute TV spot aired during the first break of the third quarter in the opening night game. Joined in the advertisement by Serena Williams, LeBron James, skateboarder Lacey Baker, and other socially conscious athletes, Kaepernick told viewers to pursue their dreams, no matter what doubters may say.

“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, good,” Kaepernick narrates. “Stay that way because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult, it’s a compliment.”

Nike announced the new campaign on Monday of this week with a photo advertisement featuring Kaepernick’s image and the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” An obvious reference to Kaepernick’s decision to kneel in protest of police brutality during the pre-game national anthem ceremony, and the years of controversy and joblessness which ensued, the pictures immediately went viral, prompting outrage from the far right, including the president himself.

In the hours after Nike debuted the Kaepernick photos online, conservative objectors posted videos to social media of Nike swooshes cut from tube socks and sneakers lit on fire, calling for a boycott of the Oregon-based sportswear brand. Despite repeated explanations from Kaepernick himself and fellow NFL protesters detailing the racial justice focus of their demonstrations, the pre-game action has been turned into a Republican talking point with its own barely veiled racial overtones.

Over the past few days, the protests of Kaepernick’s protests have inspired the hashtag #BoycottNike, and led at least one small private college, Missouri’s College of the Ozarks, to end their professional relationship with the ubiquitous brand.

“In their new ad campaign, we believe Nike executives are promoting an attitude of division and disrespect toward America,” College of the Ozarks President Jerry C. Davis said in a statement Wednesday.

Since Kaepernick began his kneeling protests during the 2016 NFL season, dozens of fellow players have joined in the symbolic action, despite Kaepernick being dropped from the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, and remaining out of the league since. In a lawsuit filed against the league, Kaepernick has accused NFL owners of colluding to blackball him from the league because of his political speech.

Earlier this summer, NFL owners tried to end player protests once and for all by implementing a rule requiring players on the field to stand at attention for the anthem, but that decision has since been overruled thanks to protest from the players’ union. 

During Thursday’s season opener, Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett paced near his team’s bench during the anthem ceremony, and took a seat at the end of the team’s bench before the song came to an end.

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
Share this article with your friends!
By using our site you agree to our use of cookies to deliver a better experience.