It remains unproven whether National Football League owners conspired to keep outspoken player Colin Kaepernick off team rosters the past two years. It is possible the player’s skills just weren’t in demand for any NFL teams.
Whatever a court decides on Kaepernick’s lawsuit alleging collusion by owners, the former San Francisco 49ers star quarterback isn’t going away.
Nike, the Oregon-based athletic shoe maker and NFL uniform supplier, just made sure of that by turning the controversial former NFL quarterback into the face of its latest ad campaign. The move announced days ago comes as the new professional football season gets under way.
Yes, 2018 won’t be the year that kneeling protests during the national anthem before NFL games cease to be a thing. But this is the year that crafty business people are figuring out how to make money off the controversy.
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Kaepernick made waves in 2016 by drawing attention to police violence and minorities by kneeling during the anthem that is played before the games start.
And in the Nike ad video, Kaepernick’s face appears with printed words about him standing up for what he believes in. The ad is being released in conjunction with the 30-year anniversary of Nike’s ad slogan “Just Do It.”
Initially, some critics of Kaepernick cut Nike “swoosh” symbols from garb they own and a boycott cannot be far off. Nike stock price fell Tuesday after news of the Kaepernick contract, then recaptured some of its loss Wednesday. Some Nike stores saw customers rush in to buy merchandise.
In the end the Kaepernick contract may work out very, very nicely for Nike. The Oregon-based retailing giant is taking risks but it has long been a prolific, if not nimble, marketer of athletic wear.
The NFL should take a cue from the shoe dealers and accept that dissent is as American and worthy of admiration as apple pie or a good hard tackle in football.
Kaepernick’s actions two seasons ago were a fair expression of frustration he felt about ongoing civil rights matters in this country. During follow-up or sympathy protests in 2017, a few members of the Seattle Seahawks sat or knelt, and at one point the entire Seahawks team agreed to stay in the locker room during the anthem playing as a show of team unity.
The anthem protests drew rebukes from President Trump last year a backlash against the NFL. Some fans didn’t want to mix politics or too much social reality in with the game-day violence they like to watch on television Sunday afternoons.
Kaepernick is still waiting for an NFL contract offer after his displays of dissent. Not a single team in the league has offered one, but an arbitrator’s ruling last week said Kaepernick’s legal complaint against the NFL should get a full arbitration hearing.
We hope this trial-like action can clarify, once and for all, why Kaepernick is no longer playing.
In the meantime, the football industry and its wealthy owners should recognize they earn their millions by operating in a national fish bowl.
Stifling the speech or symbolic gestures of players during the playing of the anthem is not going to make deeper societal problems, or protests by players, go away.
Neither will symbolic protests by players who kneel bring our country a quick fix for its deeper problems of inequality.
No doubt the NFL faces a challenge if players express themselves on the field. But we don’t recall the NFL having a problem with players who give personal thanks – with gestures to the heavenly powers above – for their successes on the field.
NFL owners including Seahawks owner Paul Allen should refrain from punishing or fining players who act as Kaepernick did. For the time being, the NFL and players union have put on hold any fines teams could impose on players who protest, according to The Associated Press.
Except where protests unfold in a wild way that causes violence or disrupts the game itself, a hands-off policy is needed.