Nike, Kaepernick controversy: it is not what you think

Nike corporation brings awareness to Kaepernick's cause, but at whose expense?


On Monday September 3, Nike made controversial NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, the face of their 30 anniversary ‘Just Do It’ campaign. The ad features many different athletes who have overcome obstacles on their way to success. One athlete featured in the ad was Vancouver Whitecaps player Alphonso Davies. Davies was born a refugee in Ghana before his family immigrated to Canada. Davies made the Canadian national team and scored three goals for Canada at just 16 years of age. He has also had many impressive performances with the Vancouver Whitecaps, which prompted one of the best clubs in the world, Bayern Munich, to buy him in the biggest ever trade in North American soccer history.

However, the decision to include Kaepernick in the ad was seen by some as a very controversial decision as Kaepernick drew a lot of criticism in August 2016 when he kneeled during the U.S. national anthem to protest police brutality towards African-American people. But while many people disliked Nike’s decision to include Kaepernick in their ad, many supported Nike’s decision and said they would purchase shoes just to support the decision to include Kaepernick in their ad. The ad promotes overcoming obstacles and believing in yourself and promotes the idea that there is no limit to what one can achieve.

The whole controversy also prompted many people to join a movement to boycott Nike for using Kaepernick in their ad. The ad resulted in some people burning their shoes in protest of Nike supporting Kaepernick; they saw what Kaepernick did as disrespectful towards the flag and towards the veterans of the country. However, one news anchor, Dale Hansen, says that veterans fought for the freedom of speech, so what Kaepernick is doing is a first amendment right, and what Kaepernick is doing is not disrespectful. “Our forefathers made freedom of speech the First Amendment. They listed 10 (amendments), and not one of them says you have to stand during the national anthem,” said Hansen.

Nike workers in a factory in Vietnam.

However, despite the opposing sides over Kaepernick’s Nike ad, the perspective that is missing in the discussion is how Nike as a corporation co-opts movements for profit. Anybody who owns any Nike apparel can check the tag, and they are practically guaranteed to see: “Made in Vietnam”, “Made in Pakistan”, or “Made in China.” In these countries, labor laws are not strict and Nike can exploit people for cheap labor. Nike exploits many people and children in developing  countries around the world, so that they can save on labor costs, and people do not seem to care. And in the end of all this controversy, Nike will be the one winning and laughing, making a profit from exploiting humans in developing nations. One recent report even stated that Nike has made a profit of six billion dollars since airing the ad.

All the people that believe they should give Nike all their money, because they believe they are supporting Kaepernick’s movement, and supporting a good cause should really contemplate whether they really want to support a company that exploits humans and slaves. If people want to support a cause, it does not necessarily need to be by purchasing something. People can join a protest or a walk for their cause, or volunteer for their cause, or simply spread the word about the cause to friends and family.

Feature photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images