Senior Copy Editor
Athletes on the biggest and brightest stages are in the public eye. As a result, their opinions matter and have a profound effect on the organization, sport, and fans, giving them the social responsibility to advocate for positive and constructive things. This responsibility is demonstrated clearest by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is notorious for being the first athlete to kneel during the National Anthem during the 2016 season. It turns out Nike has been in his corner all along and has made him, quite literally, the face of their new ad campaign.
In celebration of 30 years of the slogan “Just Do It,” Nike released a bold two minute long “Dream Big” ad featuring a new motto: “Believe in something.” Kaepernick has gone on record saying that he chose to kneel in protest of racial inequality in the United States. Currently a free agent, Kaepernick has yet to play a down since that incident, as no NFL team wants to be associated with his political agenda.
The video on Nike’s Instagram page has almost hit nine million total views and inspired many to pursue their dreams, like Maynor de Leon (@thatbigguy), who has announced his intention to lose 500 pounds. It has also challenged fans to follow in the footsteps of Alphonso Davies, a 16-year-old refugee playing for Canada’s national soccer team, and Shaquem Griffin, the Seattle Seahawks’ one-handed linebacker.
Some people believe there should be no intersection between sports and the political ideologies of its players — that these worlds should be kept apart. But because sportswear giants like Nike have so much worldwide influence and are recognized as global brands, they have a duty to be involved in more than just sports. Nike has assumed an identity of its own and has the type of power to influence the masses, and thus has an obligation to educate, inspire, and reform. That’s why its backing of such a polarizing player is so bold.
The purge against Kaepernick continued off the field as well. In the most recent iteration of the Madden series, the Madden 19 soundtrack features YG’s most recent hit, “Big Bank.” Game developer Electronic Arts censored the aforementioned quarterback’s name in Big Sean’s verse that goes “Feed me to the wolves now I lead the pack and shit. You boys all cap, I’m more Colin Kaepernick,” only contributing to the push back against Colin.
Kaepernick has received a lot of flak for attempting to push his political agenda into the world of sports, garnering an immense amount of media coverage. And Nike has also faced backlash for sponsoring the quarterback, which has led to people protesting the brand by destroying their gear, from removing the Swoosh on their clothing to burning their shoes.
In this testy political climate, where President Donald Trump actively calls out sports teams and players for a perceived lack of patriotism, it is becoming impossible to separate sports and politics. Athletes like former Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry have criticized President Trump by foregoing the storied tradition of visiting the White House after winning a national championship, making their political stance very clear.
This ideal is exemplified by athlete and philanthropist LeBron James, whose fame has allowed him to become “bigger than basketball.” After being told to “shut up and dribble” after calling Trump a “bum” and not attending the customary White House meeting, he opened the “I Promise” school in Ohio to provide schooling for underprivileged youth, cementing his legendary status off the hardwood as well.
Sports brands like Nike have a duty to take initiative in these political matters because they have become so much more than just brands. By publicly supporting Colin Kaepernick, the company has demonstrated that standing up for your beliefs, no matter the consequences, is a motto that everyone from football players to Nike consumers should live by. With such a large following, it is imperative that these entities exercise their authority by pursuing positive change.