It was supposed to be a triumphant week for the NFL. After a year-and-a-half long headache over the national anthem, a new season – and a new league-wide policy – was about to kick off. Hopes were high that teams had finally put the Colin Kaepernick controversy in the rearview mirror and could start winning back the fans it lost in the high-stakes standoff. Now, thanks to Nike, the league is right back where it started.
For Kaepernick, the third-string quarterback who lit the match on one of the fiercest cultural debates of the decade, becoming the face of Nike is an impressive accomplishment for someone who doesn't even have a professional sports contract. But then again, that isn't why the company signed him. For both, it was a marriage in opportunism. Fox News's Tucker Carlson, like a lot of people, thinks this has a lot more to do with money than Kaepernick. “Too much focus has been on Kaepernick the guy ... ,” he points out. “Here you have a board room full of corporate executives deciding that they're going to profit on attacks on the country that made their company possible. That is a really ominous thing. We should be really worried about that when the best educated, smartest, richest people in our society decide that destroying the society is the goal and the way to get rich.”
To most people, the problem isn't even with the issue Kaepernick is raising. It's how he's raising it. As Bishop Harry Jackson and I talked about in my first book, “Personal Faith, Public Policy,” America is in need of some significant healing on the issue of race. My point – and the point of a lot of patriotic Americans – is not that we shouldn't fight racial injustice. It's that our flag and the National Anthem aren't the way to go about it. Violence divides us. Injustice divides us. But our pride in America should be what unites us.
“Believe in something,” the Nike ads say with a close-up of Kaepernick's face, “even if it means sacrificing everything.” Well to a lot of patriotic Americans, that's exactly the point. Millions of men and women have sacrificed everything – marching under the same flag Nike's athletes won't stand for. If you're wondering why people are burning their shoes, that's why. “It'd be different,” Tucker said, “if [Kaepernick] said, 'I'm protesting this politician or this policy or this specific person for doing this specific thing.” But no. Sitting during the national anthem is a way of making a broad-based, generalized – and thereby impossible to rebut – attack against the country that made him and Nike rich.”
Meanwhile, at NFL headquarters, the frustration with Nike, whose apparel deal runs through 2028, is through the roof. Strategist Chris Barron called the entire thing “baffling,” especially when pro football is “desperately trying to move on” after losing billions of dollars, fans, and image capital over the last several months. Already, Nike is paying a literal price, watching stocks nose-dive three percent at Tuesday’s opening bell. Its market cap took a $3.75-billion hit from investors who are sick of companies trying to stoke the culture wars. They've watched too many brand names lose in the fight against consumers to take a gamble on another.
“Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way?” President Trump tweeted. “As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!” Others like Nine Line Apparel CEO Tyler Merritt said what a lot of parents are thinking. “I don't want to think about politics when I buy shoes or jerseys for my kids. I don't want every purchasing decision in my household to be a referendum on whether I agree or disagree with a company's politics. But that's what Nike is forcing me to do.”
Ironically, the new campaign does have one fan – former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If that isn't a ringing endorsement – a man who chants “death to America” – I don't know what is.
For now, both sides would do well to stop and heed Alveda King's advice: “My Uncle [Martin Luther King, Jr.] and father A.D. King were men of God who often ‘took the knee’ in prayer to God for repentance and reconciliation during their Christian ministry. Prayer,” she urges, “is stronger even than protest.”
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Family Research Council.