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September 24, 2018 | by  | in Sports | [ssba]

Nike Just Did it

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
If you haven’t seen this phrase sprawled over the internet in recent weeks, let me give a brief explanation. It all started with a tweet. Colin Kaepernick, ex-NFL quarterback, sent out a simple, yet inexplicably complicated tweet, announcing Nike’s latest ad campaign. The tweet read, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt”. A tweet that was either incredibly naïve or delightfully brilliant. I’m going to go with the latter.
With context removed, this comes across as a stock-standard slogan for an iconic sports brand which aims to inspire us to achieve greatness. But it’s just not that simple. You see, Mr Kaepernick isn’t the most innocuous person to be the centerpiece of your new marketing campaign. For the last two years, Kaepernick’s been stood down from competing in the NFL — the top American football league. Why? Well, he wasn’t happy with the level of police brutality and racial discrimination towards African Americans in the United States. So, how’d he respond? Well, one day, prior to a game back in 2016, while the national anthem was being played as is ritualistic tradition, Kaepernick didn’t stand. He didn’t sing. He didn’t patriotically clench his fist. He took a knee. A knee of protest. A knee that transcended the confines of sport.
In the 21st century, sport and issues of social justice will inevitably collide. Trying to keep the two mutually exclusive is akin to trying to prevent a Soundcloud rapper from drinking lean and getting a face tattoo — you’d have better luck eating soup with a hammer. So, when the two do meet, you know it’s going to get people talking. Kaepernick managed to have a seismic ripple-effect with his actions. Over 200 NFL players followed suit, in protest against the racial injustice and systematic oppression which still affects African Americans. Even top-league German soccer side Hertha BSC, in a show of solidarity to the small contingent of U.S players in their squad, all took a knee prior to a fixture back in October. Subsequently from Kaepernick’s actions, no NFL team has reached out to sign the quarterback upon opting-out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers. No team wants to be associated with such a polarizing figure.

The backlash to the ad was prominent. Trump ridiculed the move. Americans who’d condemned Kaepernick for kneeling equally lampooned Nike. Twitter’s trending page was sent into overdrive with videos of some Americans not only cutting the tops off of their Nike socks in order to defiantly dissociate from the brand, but going as far as burning their Nike shoes. I’m not kidding. The irony’s brilliant, given these same individuals ostracized Kaepernick for peacefully protesting for a genuine cause.
On the other side of the coin, Nike received a wealth of praise and commendation for their bold move. Nike have the fortune of boasting one of the most immense global platforms to address the masses, and in an age where social justice issues permeate the very fabric of our day-to-day lives, a degree of responsibility comes with this. For years Nike have inundated the public with inspiring slogans that appeal to our self-belief — “Just do it”; “Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them.” So, unless they themselves are putting this into practice, their words are fundamentally empty.
Now let’s not sugar-coat this. Nike are no strangers to controversy, nor are they by any means the most upstanding organization. For decades they have come under much-warranted scrutiny for the use of sweatshops in Asia, and the treatment of workers within these conditions. Just this year, a number of women working for Nike spoke out regarding the sexist working environment that has pervaded the company. On top of this, two of Nike’s most notorious athletes in the 21st century, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, are now regarded as two of the most disgraced athletes in world sport due to their wrongdoings. Nike aren’t perfect.
Touching on a sensitive social justice issue such as racial discrimination in America is a substantial risk, but a risk which outlines the importance of real-life issues transcending the image of a company. Some may argue that this is a ploy from Nike to gain positive appraisal, and a campaign such as this is in danger of having the real focus of the issue steer away from racial discrimination and rather be more about Nike. But my optimistic-bias on human endeavor leads me to hope that consumers don’t forget the significance of this campaign from a social justice standpoint, and recognize the importance of social change.


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