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Commentary: Nike Inserts Itself Into The NFL-Kaepernick Standoff


All right, we're going to turn now to Nike's decision to feature former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in its 30th anniversary "Just Do It" ad campaign. Remember, this is sort of an awkward situation. Nike sponsors the NFL. Kaepernick is suing the NFL, alleging that owners colluded to keep him off the field because of his political activism. Here's commentator Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA: Republicans buy sneakers, too. It's one of those quotes that the attributed speaker might never have said. But it's so perfect, history wants to pretend that he did. The he is Michael Jordan. And while this sentiment might never have been precisely articulated, it was exactly lived. For years, the thought was profits would suffer were an endorser, in any way, to take a toe touch into the world of politics. Well, Colin Kaepernick didn't touch his toe. He took a knee and triggered a cultural backlash propelled along by repeated and vociferous presidential outbursts. His protest is said to have put a dent in NFL ratings and, without doubt, has put a bee in the NFL's collective bonnet.

But let's look at what this Nike deal may say about the impact of a silent act designed to draw attention to over-policing. The thesis is that this protest, picked up by other players since Kaepernick didn't have a team to play for last season, hurt business. Yes, the NFL's TV ratings experienced a single-digit decline last year - like almost all TV ratings have gone down. So let's once more consider the notion that Kaepernick and protests were bad for business. The NFL is big business. It took in $14 billion in revenue last year. But Nike made over 36 billion.

So how is it that the NFL's business is being hurt by a single employee out of the thousands in the league, an employee who the league has taken active measures to disassociate itself from, an employee who hasn't been employed for going on two years, whereas another, much more successful business has thrown their arms around and cast their lot with the same person and, in fact, are emphasizing the very act that the NFL took every step to distance itself from. I would suggest the NFL got this one wrong. Maybe Kaepernick wasn't the problem. Nike presumably did a bit of market research in determining to tie its fortunes to the supposed route of the NFL's misfortunes. Nike may very well be the best marketers business has ever known.

So now the face of the 30th anniversary of the "Just Do It" campaign is Colin Kaepernick. It could be a mistake. Social media is filled with videos of people burning their Nikes as opposed to, say, dropping them off at homeless shelters. Nike stock was down 3 percent yesterday. But I posit that Nike has more of a finger on the spirit of America than the NFL does. But we'll see. This should be an interesting experiment. And given the text accompanying Kaepernick's picture, quote, "believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything," it would be hard to think that Nike will be able to back down from the bet they've made on where America stands on the QB who knelt.


MARTIN: Commentator Mike Pesca, he's the host of Slate's daily podcast The Gist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.