Nike just did it. One of the biggest brands in the world inserted itself into one of the most divisive issues in America by making Colin Kaepernick the face of its 30th anniversary ‘Just Do It’ campaign.
The advertisement features the face of the unemployed quarterback in black and white, with the words: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Kaepernick has yet to find a home on an NFL roster since 2016, when he began the movement of kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality against African Americans. He’s in the process of suing NFL owners for alleged collusion to blackball him from the league.
Needless to say, there’s a contentious relationship between Kaepernick and the NFL owners. By launching their campaign with Kaepernick, Nike haven’t just willingly involved themselves – they’ve actually picked a side.
And they haven’t done this as an independent third party either. Nike are heavily in business with the NFL after inking an apparel deal through 2028 which allows them to supply all 32 teams with uniforms that have the swoosh logo.
According to ESPN reports, the NFL weren’t aware Nike were coming out with the ad campaign, which means the company didn’t feel the need to get approval from the league before moving forward. That’s not an insignificant nugget, because it reveals Nike’s willingness to ruffle feathers in this situation.
Nike spokeswoman Sandra Carreon-John said: “Nike has a longstanding relationship with the NFL and works extensively with the league on all campaigns that use current NFL players and its marks. Colin is not currently employed by an NFL team and has no contractual obligation to the NFL.”
BREAKING: Nike had been paying Colin Kaepernick all along, waiting for the right moment. That moment is now, as he becomes the face of the company’s 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign. pic.twitter.com/uccpDStbq5— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 3, 2018
Nike undoubtedly deserve credit for speaking up amidst the culture war. Kaepernick has plenty of supporters, but there also those who oppose what he stands for, even if they misconstrue the issues he’s fighting for.
By promoting Kaepernick, Nike are essentially alienating a chunk of potential customers – some of the same people who voted Donald Trump to be the President of the United States. Not exactly a minority group.
But there’s value in supporting a cause and providing a platform to an influential voice. It helps to further legitimise them because when money is involved, people who wouldn’t normally listen start to pay attention.
There’s more to this, of course, than Nike helping Kaepernick out of the goodness of their heart. Ultimately, Nike is a major business, and this decision is more about the bottom line than it is about altruism.
Kaepernick has actually been signed to Nike since 2011, but the company couldn’t figure out how to monetise him over the past two years after he fell out of the league.
They do now, and they’re taking advantage of it.
This is a chance for the company to increase their presence in the consumer world by transcending sports. Kaepernick made his name as a football player, but he became a household name by kneeling on the sidelines before games. He isn’t so much an athlete now as he is an icon.
And icons have followings, particularly among the younger generation and those who can most identify with them – in this case, people of colour. As mentioned, Trump’s voter base is massive, but so is the group Kaepernick is fighting for.
The wave of negativity that Nike has had to deal with over the past couple days – the burning of Nike products, the outrage on social media, the threats to boycott, etc. – will die down. People may follow through on their claims that they’ll never wear Nike products again, but this isn’t some up-and-coming company without an established consumer base. Nike will sleep just fine at night with the knowledge that some Joe Schmos are out on the brand.
When it comes to the NFL, Nike’s move is a significant win for the players. It shows the league’s owners that, in fact, the protesting by Kaepernick and others hasn’t been a blow to their businesses like they imagined. Does it go against the personal and political beliefs of many of the owners? Sure, but at the end of the day, as long as those same figures are stuffing their pockets, they won’t mind.
And the people who are set to boycott Nike over this were likely the same ones who were boycotting the NFL due to the national anthem protests. The league isn’t losing many of the customers that have stuck around, all while gaining an excuse to begin the mend with the Players Association.
Nike haven’t fired a shot across the bow, they’ve left a cannon ball-sized hole in the topic. It may just be the start of settling this tug of war.
One of the best parts of the NFL season is how unpredictable it is.
Aside from the New England Patriots, who you can pretty much pencil in for the second weekend of the playoffs, the rest of the field in both conferences can go in various directions.
Similarly with the individual awards, the competition to be one of the standout players will be stiff, especially if most of the big names can stay healthy.
We won’t know how any of this plays out until months from now, but in the meantime, let’s gaze into our crystal ball and relay what we see.
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
The NFC will be a bloodbath in the playoffs and a number of teams could come out of the conference, but the Saints are arguably the most balanced and well-rounded team in the league.
SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS
New Orleans Saints
Their improved defence will be just good enough to hold off Brady while the offence has its way in a shootout.
If he stays on the field, he’s a lock to put up gaudy numbers in terms of both volume and efficiency.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
As of writing, Bell has yet to report to the Steelers, but it’s hard to imagine him missing out on game cheques. And when he does get on the field, the Steelers will feed him early and often with a massive workload in his final year with the team.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Somewhat surprisingly, the Broncos edge rusher has never picked up the award, despite having multiple stellar seasons. That will change this year as there will be fewer double teams to deal with now that Bradley Chubb is part of the defence.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
He was drafted second overall for a reason as the Giants plan to use him extensively as a runner and receiver to help take the pressure off Eli Manning.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
A playmaker in the Chargers secondary, James will be vital to the success of San Diego’s defence as someone who can wreak havoc and create turnovers.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
He looked like himself in his final preseason outing and with the talent he possesses, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Luck push the Colts into the playoff picture.
COACH OF THE YEAR
With the Chargers winning the AFC West and earning a bye one year after missing the playoffs, Lynn will be rightfully rewarded.
It’s been 13 years since anyone has repeated as Super Bowl champions, but the Philadelphia Eagles are uniquely positioned to change that this season.
After lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February to cap off an improbable run with a back-up quarterback, the Eagles begin their title defence with a significantly stronger squad than the one that brought the franchise its first banner.
In Carson Wentz alone, Philadelphia will get back their starting quarterback and face of the team, as well as someone who was an MVP candidate before going down with an ACL tear in the middle of last season.
Nick Foles was unassailable in the postseason, but Wentz – who will be inactive for Week 1 – protects the Eagles from having to find out if their Super Bowl hero will turn back into a pumpkin when he returns to the field.
Philadelphia also welcome back nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, linebacker Jordan Hicks and running back Darren Sproles – all of whom were sidelined by injuries in the playoffs.
As if getting healthy wasn’t enough, the Eagles went out in the offseason and added two stalwarts on the defensive line with the additions of veterans Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata.
Arguably the most talented roster in the league last season has only gotten deeper, affording Philadelphia with all the ammo they need to break the drought of repeat champions.
In a loaded NFC, however, the Eagles will be tasked with going through a field that is as dangerous as any in recent memory.
Up north, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are more than equipped to knock Philadelphia off their throne.
After upgrading from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins at quarterback, getting running back Dalvin Cook back from an ACL tear, and retaining, by the numbers, the best defence in the league from a season ago, the Vikings are primed to avenge their NFC Championship loss.
The ‘Minneapolis Miracle’ – which saw the Vikings pull off a legendary last-second win over New Orleans in Divisional Round – wrote a new, memorable chapter in the team’s history, but the franchise is still searching for its first Super Bowl in its 58 years of existence.
In Green Bay’s case… well, they get Aaron Rodgers back from a broken collarbone, and when the best quarterback in the game is upright, he’s a one-man wrecking crew capable of putting the Packers on his back.
The last four seasons in which Rodgers has been on the field for all 16 regular season games, Green Bay have reached at least the Divisional Round each time.
In ‘The Big Easy’, there’s nothing laissez-faire about the Saints’ intentions this season as they aim to erase the bad taste left in their mouths from the aforementioned debacle against Minnesota.
Drew Brees, much like Tom Brady in New England, continues to churn out his usual production in his relatively old age (39), but flanked by a pair of stud running backs in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and supported by a defence on the rise, the quarterback no longer has to shoulder the entire load.
Though all of the NFC’s contenders will deal with great expectations, arguably no team in NFL is under more pressure this season than the Los Angeles Rams.
A redux of the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles ‘dream team’, the Rams are under the microscope after adding several big-name players to a squad that won 11 games and the NFC West in head coach Sean McVay’s first year.
Joining reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald on the defensive line is Ndamukong Suh, while newcomers Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters form a ball-hawking cornerback duo in a secondary also featuring free safety Lamarcus Joyner.
Considering the money and contracts Los Angeles have on their books, their title window with this current roster may not be more than two years, which ups the urgency to win now.
The Seattle Seahawks may not be as much of a threat now that their defence looks unrecognisable, but the San Francisco 49ers could make the Rams earn another NFC West crown thanks to the pairing of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan.
Garoppolo has yet to lose as a starting quarterback as he holds a flawless 7-0 mark, which includes the five consecutive victories he led the 49ers to at the end of last season.
Elsewhere in the conference, the Atlanta Falcons will attempt to get back to the Super Bowl after taking a step back last year, while the New York Giants are banking on Eli Manning having something left in the tank and the Chicago Bears look to play dark horse under first year head coach Matt Nagy.