Nike’s new advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick poses some ethical questions for him and for potential buyers of Nike’s athletic apparel. It does not effectively pose any ethical questions for the company, Nike, because they have never been overly concerned with that sort of thing, as continuing controversy over its reliance on overseas sweatshop labor attests. For Nike the new advertising campaign is strictly a business proposition.
Nike Headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon, in July 2010. Lake Nike is in the foreground. Photo by Brandon Carson.
Mr. Kaepernick has been under contract with Nike since 2011, but this is the first time the company has prominently featured him in their advertising. The campaign has everybody talking, and that of course is the goal of all advertising. Nike may or may not support the cause of protesting police brutality and racial injustice, but more likely they are simply capitalizing on Mr. Kaepernick’s notoriety and are willing to sit on the fence about his protest cause, no matter what their ad slogan implies about it.
What’s more difficult to parse is the willingness of Mr. Kaepernick to make himself the face of such an amoral corporation. It’s hard to believe that a socially aware man like him would be completely unaware of the lingering taint of Nike’s historic exploitation of cheap, non-union labor. Nike has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of athletes under contract to promote its products, but none have been primarily renowned for social justice causes as much as Colin Kaepernick. There are substantial financial incentives for him in participating in Nike’s advertising, though it beggars the imagination to believe he is unaware of the conflicting signals he is now sending people who have supported his protest.
The targets of Nike’s advertising, the buyers of its shoes and other athletic gear, are probably mostly unaware of Nike’s history of exploitative labor practices. That has to be what Nike is counting on and why they are willing to put forward a controversial figure to promote their products. Nike knows its target market is under 30, and to many of them Mr. Kaepernick is a hero, while only a minority of them may know or care about Nike’s history of bad labor relations. Nike is still in business, after all, and doing better than ever. For Nike’s young customers, there is likely no dissonance bubbling up from this advertising campaign.
It is mostly older folks who are upset with Mr. Kaepernick’s kneeling protests, and Nike doesn’t need their business to stay afloat. The campaign is a cynical, amoral ploy by Nike, which is no surprise, but it’s puzzling to consider Mr. Kaepernick’s motivations, if they are indeed any deeper than face value, such as how Nike depicts him on their poster, accompanied by a slogan with echoes of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, or as Nike might appropriate it, Just Do the Right Thing.
New York Giants football team co-owner Steve Tisch has spoken out publicly against the National Football League’s (NFL) new policy of punishing teams which allow players to kneel for the national anthem, saying he doesn’t intend to punish any Giants’ players for exercising their First Amendment rights to protest police brutality. Mr. Tisch also criticized the current president of the country for weighing in on the issue, particularly since he appears to misunderstand the reason for the protests and believes the players are against the flag and the anthem, and therefore America.
Considering the Troll-in-Chief’s poor grasp of many issues, such as his recent characterization of the small Balkan nation of Montenegro as a place filled with “very aggressive people” who could involve the United States in World War III in order to come to their aid as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is possible he does not understand the true reason for the protests initiated by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when he was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. It is equally likely he saw how many in the corporate media used the shorthand term “anthem protests” and how it caught on with much of the public who superficially skim news stories, a group of people which often includes his most loyal supporters, the Trumpkins, and he exploited people’s ignorance to mis-characterize the protests as disloyal demonstrations by spoiled, privileged athletes. There is deep irony in Chief Bone Spurs shamelessly dumping on black athletes as spoiled and privileged ingrates when many of them worked their way up from poor backgrounds to earn a lucrative spot in the limelight afforded to only a tiny percentage of those playing sports.
On July 7, 2016, community members and Black Lives Matter activists gather outside the Minnesota governor’s residence in Saint Paul hours after police shot and killed Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster.
The Troll-in-Chief knew very well his Trumpkins would eat up his slanders of the black athletes. Almost all the players kneeling in protest of police brutality were black, largely because unnecessary police killings have affected black people most of all, and as such the protests were in tune with the Black Lives Matter movement. What better way for the Trumpkins to vent their resentment against millionaire black athletes than to ignore the real reason for their protests in favor of slamming them as un-American? They don’t support our troops, who died for a colored piece of cloth and a song glorifying war! Actually, if anything, those troops died defending the right of the NFL players to kneel or stand for the national anthem. That’s a complex, abstract concept, however, and for the Trumpkins it’s much easier and more satisfying to howl hateful epithets at black players for doing something they don’t like, even though the players have a perfectly legal and moral right to do it.
Warning: Police brutality! Clip art by liftarn.
The current president has harbored a grudge against NFL owners since the 1980s when they refused him membership in their club after his ill-fated stint as owner of the New Jersey Generals franchise in the United States Football League (USFL). He probably sees stirring the pot of the “anthem protests” as revenge. He likely couldn’t care less about the real issues involved. That’s the definition of a troll. In the 1933 Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, the leaders of a small Balkan nation named Freedonia exhibit equal parts comic ineptitude, corruption, ignorance of facts while manipulating lies, and demonization of imagined internal and external enemies as a way of distracting the populace and covering their own tracks. A superficial comparison with Montenegro might come to mind, though a deeper understanding of the satire in the film reveals a more apt match with the current leaders of our country.
The television remote control is a wonderful device, allowing a television viewer to turn the channel, adjust the volume, and even turn the television off altogether, all from the comfort of a chair or couch across the room. As entertainment components have proliferated in the home, innovators have kept pace with the implementation of the universal remote control to control all of them. The universal remote control of today is to the basic television remote control of yore as wonderfulness squared and then some.
In the old days, a television viewer had to get up from a chair and cross the room to change the channel or turn the TV off in order to avoid unpleasant scenes such as this obviously taped-on picture of Vietnam War footage. Photo from the February 13, 1968 issue of U.S. News & World Report Magazine by Warren K. Leffler.
When the beginning of a National Football League game comes on the television then, and some of the players are kneeling during the National Anthem as a way of protesting police brutality and institutional injustice towards black people, and some people in the home audience are offended by the players’ exercise of their First Amendment rights, there is always the option of using the wonderful hand held device at their side and either turning the channel or turning the television off. For offended people in the stands at the game, the options are different of course, including turning away from the offending sight and riveting their attention on Old Glory, or taking the occasion to visit the food concourse or the restrooms. For our purposes, we will be concerned with the home viewers who vastly outnumber the people willing to put up with the rigmarole of attending an NFL game in person.
Let us suppose that the home viewer has discarded the options of turning the channel or turning the television off using their wonderful remote control, perhaps because the fate of the western world depends on their viewing of the game at hand, and so is left with the spectacle of highly paid professional athletes, many of them black, kneeling during the National Anthem. Never fear!
Firstly, remember that the protest itself is against the police and the judicial system, not the revered Anthem and the Flag, much as Supreme Leader would like to pervert the understanding of the protest to push white America’s jingoistic buttons. If, realizing this, the kneeling is still offensive, remember that the Constitution was written in large part to protect unpopular minority (meaning less than majority in this case, not necessarily differently skinned) expressions from the tyranny of the majority. Yes, it’s in the Constitution that they can do this! God bless America!
Secondly, remember to stand at home during the National Anthem and either salute or place one hand over your heart. Just because a football fan is at home viewing the game, that is no excuse for not showing due respect to Flag and Country during the National Anthem if that is what is so important to them that they are eager to publicly shame others for not doing the same. If you don’t have a flag displayed at home (and you really should), stand and face Washington, DC, or whatever direction indicates the position on the globe of Supreme Leader at the moment. He could be in South Korea just across the line from North Korea, childishly taunting his rival in idiocy, Kim Jong-un!
The Heitech Universal Remote, one of many wonderful devices available on the open market which, with sage usage by the discerning consumer of entertainment, should shield that consumer from offensive content such as the free exercise of Constitutional rights by black athletes. Photo by Raimond Spekking.
Lastly, remember to take pictures of yourself standing at home for the National Anthem and pass them around for the scrutiny of your friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers. You must pass muster! What use is your sunshine patriotism if no one else notices it? It’s all well and good to be in the stands at the game and boo the kneeling players and berate your fellow citizens who side with them, but for the stay at home football fan there has to be a more influential option than firing off angry emails to the league and the local paper. Take pictures and post them on your social media accounts. Burn your NFL merchandise in the front yard. Lynch Colin Kaepernick in effigy – oh, wait, that’s a little too Ku Klux Klan for the suburbs. Too many echoes.
Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk in 1965’s The Great Race understood the importance of pushing buttons on mechanical devices to achieve desired results, though their efforts didn’t always work out as planned.
You get the idea. There’s one technological hurdle that the wonderful remote control device can’t overcome, and that’s answering the question “Why?” Why, for instance, do grown men (and some women) get so emotionally invested in a game that they have blown a simple political protest out of proportion and selfishly, narcissistically claimed it has ruined their fun? Why is it no one refutes the silly argument about “pampered millionaire athletes”, when after all it was all of us who made them rich, with our misplaced priorities that reward hundreds of jocks with millions of dollars while thousands of talented schoolteachers and others who provide vital services scratch to make a living? Who are we then, after elevating them, to tell these athletes to shut up and play, and why do we think it’s important that they should? Why do the rest of us allow the childishly insecure and testosterone poisoned among us to set the agenda and bully everyone else to follow their foolish commands? Too bad we can’t point a remote control at ourselves for the answers. Meanwhile, if the protests bother you so much that you get your knickers in a twist about them, push a button on your remote control and read a book instead.