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With Nike and Kaepernick, activist ads may be hitting their new stride

A frame from Nike’s new “Just do it” television commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick.
A frame from Nike’s new “Just do it” television commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick. YouTube

I can count on one hand the number of Nike items I own, but not for the reason you might think. I like a lot of what I see of the brand, but unless it’s had two or three markdowns, I’ve never been able to bring myself to pay the asking price. For sportswear, the prices always seemed extravagant. I have a few of their tops, but absolutely no sneakers. None.

Given recent news, that’s about to change. Give me until the end of the month, and I promise you I will own a pair of Nike sneakers. And for good measure, I will purchase a pair for my broke medical student daughter — from the sale rack, of course.

It’ll be a small contribution for sure, but what better way to say I like what the sportswear giant just did in making former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick the face of its newest ad campaign? After all, if Kaepernick can risk putting his livelihood on the line, and Nike can risk shrinking its bottom line, surely I can give $100 from my measly Christmas fund to show my support.

Swoosh.

I wish all of us felt that way. I wish we could agree that Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee has nothing to do with disrespecting our flag as some like to argue and has everything to do with respecting African Americans’ right to protest police brutality.

But alas this is America, and one of the great advantages of living in this country is you get to voice your opinion. That’s the part of being free that seems to always get lost in this discussion.

And so news of the sportswear giant’s campaign had barely hit the airwaves before we started to see videos of Nike shoes being burned on social media and the company’s stock price started to drop.

There are lots of people out there who refuse to see the injustice in police shooting unarmed black men because, well, we blacks make up 15 percent of the population and commit 50 percent of crimes. And, by golly, we kill each other.

It’s been two years since Kaepernick kicked off the debate over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, and people still don’t seem to get it, or won’t.

After telling players to stay in the locker room and do their kneeling or risk being fined, the NFL announced recently that “no new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced” until the league and the players’ association find an agreement regarding protests during the national anthem.

I’m seeing glimmers of hope. Nike’s new ad campaign, launched just days before the start of the new NFL season to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan, features a close-up shot of Kaepernick telling the story of fellow athletes LeBron James and Serena Williams. “It’s only crazy until you do it. Just do it,” he says as the ad comes to its graceful end.

After a brief drop, Nike’s stock rose, reaching an all-time high last Friday. Swoosh.

The fact that Nike’s online sales increased by a whopping 31 percent in three days after the Kaepernick ad debuted speaks volumes as to just what politicized times we are living through, said Amanda Hallay, professor of fashion history at New York’s LIM College.

“Cynically, one could say that social conscientiousness has become the trend du jour, yet as Nike has continually built its brand on the concept of empowerment, there seems to be a genuine sincerity in its choice of controversial Kaepernick to represent it,” Hallay said. “Add to this the fact that the word ‘woke,’ the slang term for social and political awareness, is becoming part of daily dialogue, and with Nike’s incredible sales surge, I think it’s safe to say that we will see more and more ‘activism advertising’ over the coming months.”

Let’s stay woke and support the brands that value people over their bottom lines.

If you still can’t bring yourself to do that, try to forget those immortal words running across Kaepernick’s face: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Swoosh!

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