Nike Inc. (NKE) has chosen Colin Kaepernick, one of the most polarizing figures in America, as the face of its new ad campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan.
The former NFL quarterback, who controversially kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, tweeted a black-and-white photo of himself featuring the Nike logo, the “Just Do It” slogan and the following quote: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Kaepernick has been on Nike’s payroll since 2011, according to ESPN, although the sportswear brand has not featured him in its ad campaigns over the past two years. The former player has filed collusion grievances against NFL owners, alleging that teams conspired to keep him out of the league because of his protests — Kaepernick has been a free agent since 2017. Last week, an arbiter denied the NFL's request to dismiss the grievance, enabling the case to go to trial.
“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Nike executive Gino Fisanotti told ESPN. “We wanted to energize its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes.”
Fisanotti added that the new version of the campaign is aimed specifically at 15- to 17-year olds. Other athletes in the “Just Do It" campaign include Odell Beckham Jr., Shaquem Griffin, Lacey Baker, Serena Williams and LeBron James.
Nike shares edged lower during pre-market trading on Tuesday morning.
While many applauded Nike's bold move, its decision to publicly back Kaepernick risks angering many conservatives, including President Donald Trump, who previously said that team owners should "get that son of a bitch off the field" if a player knelt in protest during the anthem.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tweeted that he will not be wearing any Nike products, while others on social media posted videos of Nike shoes burning and Nike socks with the “swoosh” symbol cut out. (See also: Why Nike's Hot Stock May Fall By 10%.)
I'll be on w/ @MariaBartiromo on @FoxBusiness at 8am ET Tues, but I will not be wearing any @Nike products. I guess @Nike will now focus on making knee pads for NFL.
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) September 4, 2018
Nike is no stranger to cause-related marketing, and many believe that the company is taking a calculated risk. “The long-term relationship and a contract that benefits both parties over the next 10 years will likely outweigh any current controversy,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Chen Grazutis.
I don’t think Nike supporting Kaepernick is what matters. I think that Nike believing that it will be popular matters. Nike are giants in the business of taste.
— Peter Spence (@Pete_Spence) September 3, 2018
I’m just here to remind folks that last year Colin Kaepernick was in the top 50 in NFL jersey sales, despite not being on a roster. Nike made a business move.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 3, 2018
The NFL season is due to start in the next few days, and Nike may also have to be careful it doesn't cause its relationship with the league to sour. (See also: Nike, NFL Extend Partnership Through 2028.)