Many Americans have taken to social media with videos of burning Nike products as anthem-kneeling footballer Colin Kaepernick is used as the face of the latest ‘Just Do It’ campaign.
Protests began in the hours after Nike launched their campaign featuring Kaepernick, with dozens of people uploading videos and images of burning Nike products to Twitter.
The controversy behind this backlash that the sports retail giant currently faces is deeply rooted not only in American Football, the sport that Kaepernick plays, but also in politics.
The Student reported in October last year that NFL viewing statistics were taking a severe hit as an increasing number of players took a knee during the national anthem to protest against police brutality towards black people in America.
President Donald Trump placed himself in the spotlight at the time, claiming that anyone who took a knee during the American national anthem was disrespecting the flag and was rejecting patriotism.
This move by Nike has the potential to renew Trump’s ire, as it is one of the biggest retailers not only in America but across the entire world. The Republican President may well view this as a clear act of defiance.
Yet Nike have no intention to back down, as they staunchly support their decision to use Kaepernick as one of the faces of their ‘Just Do It’ campaign, which celebrates its 30th year in 2018.
Nike spokeswoman, Sandra Carreon-John, said that Nike believes that “Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of his generation”.
This is clearly true for many people in America, as black deaths at the hands of police officers have continued to rise in recent years. Kaepernick was seen as a revolutionary by many when he first refused to stand for the “Star Spangled Banner” in the 49ers third preseason game of 2013.
The potential problems that this may cause for Nike, however, are clear. Despite being one of the strongest brands in the world, the power of social media and American politics should not be underestimated.
It has been reported that at the start of Tuesday last week, Nike’s stock price had already fallen by 3 per cent. The impact of the trending Twitter hashtag #BoycottNike and the actions of celebrities, such as Big and Rich singer John Rich advocating cutting the famous Nike swoosh off clothing, has clearly taken its toll.
Yet an issue that is seemingly ignored by many at this time is that Kaepernick is an established Nike athlete and only one of many famous sports people to be fronting Nike’s latest campaign.
Carreon-John points out that Kaepernick has been a Nike athlete since 2011, way before the kneeling controversy occurred and Nike are well within their rights to use their own athletes for advertising.
This controversy should not be seen as an isolated act of defiance from Nike, it is a far more calculated and considered move.
Publicity, whether good or bad, is still publicity. Once again, Nike have pushed themselves to the forefront of the retail conversation, and should they be able to ride the media storm that they are currently facing, then they may well come out in a stronger position than ever.
It is a bold decision to use an athlete that is sure to stimulate partisan opinion, whether in the form of anger or approval, yet it is not the first time it has been done.
Mike Tyson’s appearance on a 1995 cover of The Source springs to mind, as it was branded as a rebirth, not long after being convicted of rape and given a prison sentence in 1992.
It remains to be seen whether this backlash towards Nike will continue, but it is undeniable that Nike have once again risen to the top of the retail conversational agenda.
Image: Robert Cudmore via Flickr