Nike and Colin Kaepernick became the center of attention yet again last week after Nike withdrew an Independence Day-themed shoe called the “Air Max 1 USA," which featured the “Betsy Ross Flag” on its heel. The Nike pulled the shoe after the former NFL quarterback argued that Nike shouldn’t release a product which contained an “offensive” symbol with connections to an “era of slavery."
Like clockwork, calls to boycott Nike erupted online. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) took to Twitter to encourage others to join him and #WalkAwayFromNike, with his call retweeted over 26,000 times in 5 days.
“I love America. I stand for the anthem, respect the flag & honor the men & women who fought to defend our Nation. I respect Free Speech & I’m exerting mine: until [Nike] ends its contempt for those values, I WILL NO LONGER PURCHASE NIKE PRODUCTS. #WalkAwayFromNike RT if you agree.”
This is not the first time that Nike and Colin Kaepernick have joined forces to trigger widespread outrage. In 2018, Kaepernick was announced as the face of a Nike advertising campaign for the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” motto. Kaepernick had already sparked controversy as an NFL player by kneeling during the national anthem to “protest racial justice," sometimes wearing socks which depicted police officers as pigs. When posters appeared of the former quarterback’s face adorned with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything." The conservative Twittersphere went into overdrive, calling for boycotts, burning Nike products, and even wearing socks with the Nike “swoosh” removed.
In both cases, the reactions to Nike and Colin Kaepernick are certainly understandable. It’s undeniably divisive to select a mediocre quarterback who slandered police officers by pushing an unsubstantiated political narrative immediately after his football career went into decline. It’s undeniably divisive to withdraw a product days before the 4th of July by applying the label of racism and slavery to the American flag used during the revolutionary wars. What conservatives must realize, however, is that - to quote Marco Rubio in 2016 - “They know exactly what they’re doing!”
Nike is a multi-billion dollar corporation with one primary goal: profit. All other considerations and concerns are secondary. With that in mind, when a company such as Nike selects a seemingly-divisive figure, we should not assume that it was a foolish, impulsive mistake. We should assume that it was the result of careful planning. When Nike doubled-down on this divisive figure by effectively attacking the American flag, it’s clear that Kaepernick’s place in Nike’s organization is far from accidental.
After their controversial selection of Kaepernick in their 2018 “Believe in Something” campaign, Nike stock “surged as much as 9.2% in early U.S. trading after its second-quarter results soared past projections”. Nike also saw financial gains after their decision to pull the “Betsy Ross” shoe. According to Business Insider, “The company's shares closed at $86.82 on Friday, up from $84.53 on July 2. The boost came one day after the company pulled its Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July.”.
The fact is Nike has identified a strategy which allows them to profit from division and controversy. Supporters of Kaepernick and his ideology will continue to buy Nike products, and critics of Kaepernick and his ideology will predictably take to social media to express their understandable outrage, causing #BoycottNike, #NoToNike, and #WalkAwayFromNike to go viral. Not only does this provide Nike with free advertising and brand recognition, but could also drive those who oppose conservatives to “fight back” by purchasing more Nike products, resulting in a cycle of profit.
Nike will only change their ideology when their profit margin is at stake. Unless we want to see this form of divisive corporate trolling to continue, conservatives need to employ a different counter-strategy and avoid falling into Nike’s trap. If conservatives see Nike’s choices as the cynical business decisions that they are, and refuse to provide them with the profitable outrage they seek, Nike will have no financial incentive to divide our society with characters such as Kaepernick.
Conservatives: when it comes to Nike, “Just Don’t Do It"