Dalton Myers | Raising awareness through sports
In 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to join the US Army, objecting to the Vietnam War. The following year, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos did the famous Black Power salute as another sign of protest on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Now, we have our 'new- generation' athlete Colin Kaepernick generating discussions on sports , race, and politics through his own protest.
Kaepernick was one of two players who started 'taking a knee' during the US national anthem at NFL games protesting police violence against people of colour in the USA. The other player ,Eric Reid, like Kaepernick, has not been signed by any NFL franchise, with both arguing that their stance has caused them to be victimised. It is Kaepernick, a quarterback, who has emerged as the face of the controversy.
This saga is not going away anytime soon, and why should it? So much has happened since, including his lawsuit against NFL owners, citing collusion to keep him out of the league.
Just this week Nike announced Kaepernick as one of the faces of the latest version of their 'Just Do It' campaign. This move by Nike is very interesting as now we see some emerging themes surrounding race, politics, inclusion and commercialisation. For Nike, this is a well-researched, well-organised, and thoroughly calculated move. One that may have started with genuine concerns about social injustices in society, but one that is definitely rooted in commercialisation ... and you cannot blame them for that.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 'Just Do It'campaign and approximately seven years of partnership with Kaepernick. They would have done the analytics and realised that this is an opportunity to not just raise awareness, but also partner with someone who stands for something and will push their message. Nike is also fully aware that Kaepernick's advocacy has now reached new markets and has touched the lives of many persons who are not into sports, much less the NFL. In one year, he donated over US$1 million to various charities for social justice and education while not being employed by the NFL. His jerseys are still in high demand, especially by young people. The campaign is definitely seeking to engage his supporters in markets around the world.
Nike released its 'Crazy Dream'inspirational video which carries a powerful message and includes other powerful athletes such as Serena Williams and LeBron James . Kaepernick is the major star of the campaign. This is brilliant and will connect with his supporters around this world. Any marketing executive wants to ensure that their messages have a significant impact on the target audience. You want to keep people talking about the brand long after the message has died.
"Don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they're crazy enough."
Will resonate with many
Of course, there has been backlash for Nike, with some people destroying branded apparel, a short-lived drop on the stock market and condemnation from various sectors. However, I am sure that they anticipated this. I would imagine that this was also taken into consideration and a decision was made to be on the right side of history because that can translate into immeasurable future earnings. Nike is a brand that takes risks and is not afraid of controversies.
It is left to see how Nike will use their resources to cushion the negative effects of this campaign. That cushion is what Kaepernick will be depending on to push his message. The NFL started on Thursday but throughout this first week, we will get a better idea of the mood of the owners, players and sponsors. Along the way, this message will also be hijacked by the media or other commercial prospects for financial gains. We are moving into a whole new arena where we aren't too sure what is the end game.
Now, while this is unfolding in the US , I am left to ponder, who is our modern-day 'Kaepernick' in Jamaica or in the wider Caribbean? Which athlete will one day stand up (or kneel) in protest of the social issues and injustices in our space? Will any corporate entity ever support such a stance? My guess is no time soon, but we'll see.
- Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org