Colin Kaepernick: from controversy to the face of Nike

Colin Kaepernick became one of the most controversial figures in American sports when he knelt during the playing of the American national anthem in 2016. He did this in protest against discrimination against blacks and other people of color in the United States and the ever-increasing police violence against minorities. When he failed to find a new employer the following year, many quickly suspected a conspiracy against him. In September 2018, Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of their latest campaign. A controversial choice that led to many negative as well as positive reactions in America.

Colin Kaepernick

  • Who is Colin Kaepernick?
  • Protest during the playing of the American national anthem
  • Reactions from politics and business
  • No contract for Kaepernick
  • Face of Nike campaign


Who is Colin Kaepernick?

Colin Kaepernick is an American quarterback in American football. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1987 and had a complicated childhood. Kaepernick has a white biological mother and a black father. However, he did not grow up with them. His parents separated before he was born and Kaepernick’s mother, who was 19 when he was born, was unable to care for him. Thus, Kaepernick was adopted by a white family after two of their own sons died due to a congenital heart defect. After moving from Wisconsin to California, young Colin started playing American football at the age of 8. He soon proved to be an all-rounder: not only did he combine American football with baseball and basketball, he also got high grades at school.

Mainly as a result of his good baseball performances, Kaepernick was offered several scholarships. Because his build was not ideal for American football, he received little interest in that field. Ultimately, he accepted the only scholarship he was offered for the sport and Kaepernick attended the University of Nevada, Reno. It soon became clear that he had made the right choice because he performed exceptionally well for his university team. He broke several records in the process.

In 2011, Colin Kaepernick turned pro. He was selected 36th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and went on to play for the San Francisco 49ers. In the 2012 season he really made a name for himself as a professional for the first time by ending the year with some impressive statistics. In 2014, Colin Kaepernick signed a 6-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers worth a total of $126 million dollars. In 2015 and 2016 his statistics were less impressive but he did play a few games for his team.

Protest during the playing of the American national anthem

play The Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem , before every NFL game . Players stand and hold their right hand over their heart. In 2016, during the third preseason game, Colin Kaepernick remained on the bench during the national anthem. When later asked by a reporter why he did this, Kaepernick replied that he did not want to stand and show his pride in front of the flag of a country that discriminates against blacks and people of color. It would be selfish to look the other way, he continued. He also cited recent serious police violence as a reason to no longer stand for the national anthem and the American flag.

Source: Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.0)

In his team’s next game, Colin Kaepernick took it one step further. Instead of sitting on the bench, he demonstratively knelt during the national anthem. His protest could no longer be missed by anyone. The action provoked strong reactions in the United States. While on the one hand people called his action disrespectful and rude, others praised his courage in taking this controversial step. A number of athletes followed Kaepernick’s example, including American football players Brandon Marshall, Marcus Peters, Jelani Jenkins, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills and football star Megan Rapinoe. The first white American football player to kneel during the playing of the national anthem was Seth DeValve. In 2017, the protest took on even greater proportions when, for example, a total of 27 players knelt for the national anthem at the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars. During a game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans, the players did not come out until after the playing of the national anthem was completed.

Reactions from politics and business

President Donald Trump has publicly attacked Kaepernick and those who followed his lead several times. He should ,find another country that works better for him,, Donald Trump said on Twitter. Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts game when several players protested by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Former President Barack Obama said in response that athletes who choose to kneel during the national anthem are exercising their constitutional right to protest and that he does not doubt their sincerity.

Several major sponsors such as Nike, Ford and Under Armor have released statements in which they endorse the freedom of expression of athletes. Several smaller sponsors have broken contracts with players as a result of their participation in the protest.

No contract for Kaepernick

In March 2017, Kapernick exercised the option in his contract to terminate it with the aim of looking for another employer as a free agent . However, in the following season he did not find a new employer. Sports commentators calculate that quarterbacks with similar statistics normally never remain unemployed for that long. That is why the story soon went around that the reason for his unemployment was not sporting but political in nature. In November 2017, Kaepernick filed a lawsuit against the NFL. He claims the NFL is conspiring to keep him out of the running. In August 2018, a judge decided that there are sufficient grounds for the case to proceed.

Face of Nike campaign

In September 2018, Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would become the new face of their campaign. Nike CEO Gino Fisanotti called Kaepernick ,one of the most inspiring athletes of his generation, who has used the platform of sports to improve the world., Kapernick’s face appeared large on billboards and full-page advertisements with the caption , Believe in something., Even if it means sacrificing everything ‘. The accompanying commercial, which does not make any reference to the kneeling gesture, shows even more athletes who have had to overcome various obstacles and prejudices to achieve their goals, such as a Muslim woman who boxes with a headscarf, a young wrestler without legs and a boy who has lost a lot of weight . The images are alternated with those of well-known top athletes sponsored by Nike.

Some may have been surprised that Nike chose Kapernick as the face of their campaign. Many mainly Trump voters and other right- wing Americans are disgusted by Kaepernick’s actions, which would make a backlash against Nike obvious. After the announcement, Trump was quick to respond via Twitter and indicated that Nike would be severely punished. In reality, Nike’s stock fell about 3% on the first day after the announcement, but recovered the next day. Marketing experts also calculated that the campaign provided Nike with approximately $43 million in free publicity that was largely neutral to positive. The few videos that surfaced on the internet of people setting their sneakers on fire in protest seem to be just a side note to the story.

Other major African-American athletes sponsored by Nike responded positively. For example, tennis star Serena Williams said she is extra proud to be part of the Nike family. Basketball player LeBron James also spoke positively about the choice of sports giant Nike.

Leave a Comment