NOTE: As I come across more strangeness and silliness pertaining to this topic, I’ll add edits to the bottom of my missive, so this essay has become something of a “living” document, or at least a wee bit of streaming consciousness. Keep checking back for more.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
-Attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), and many others
Yes, I’m going to get political again, but this time it has nothing to do with WorldCon, Comicsgate, or any of that other stuff. Still, I suppose it’s related, since more or less the same players are involved.
I’ve read a ton of articles recently about Colin Kaepernick and what he’s supposedly sacrificed relative to being the “poster person” for Nike’s 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” campaign. According to writer Hank Berrien in the linked article I just posted above, Kaepernick has been on Nike’s payroll since 2011, even though he hasn’t been in any of their ads for the past two years up until now.
As you can see from the image of his tweet, he believes in something even though (supposedly) it’s cost him everything. But what does that mean?
It means not too much. Ben Shapiro’s guest opinion piece at Newsweek pointblank states that the former football player (he hasn’t played professionally in two years) has sacrificed nothing:
First off, it’s ridiculous to suggest that believing in something is a worthwhile goal—it rather depends on what you believe in. Second, Kaepernick has sacrificed nothing. He began kneeling only once he became a backup with the San Francisco 49ers. He turned down a trade to the Denver Broncos because he refused to restructure his contract and give up money. He hasn’t been employed because he’s a team headache and because he’s not a very good quarterback (in 2016, he had one of the worst QB ratings in the league, and in 2015, he was even worse). The same folks decrying the injustice of Kaepernick lacking a quarterback job were more than happy to see Tim Tebow, a similarly less-than-average quarterback, hit the door.
I’m sure many people think that Shapiro and others are treating Kaepernick unfairly (and that I am, too), but to the best of my ability, I can’t find any factual errors in Shapiro’s article.
Actually, this is a brilliant move on Nike’s part. Even if people are protesting against Nike by destroying their products, Nike wins, not only because they’ve already gotten paid, but because of all the free marketing involved. So when country singer John Rich and his soundman post photos of cutting off the Nike “swoosh” from a pair of socks, it doesn’t matter, and in fact, they’re doing Nike a favor.
And the split second President Donald Trump gets on twitter and starts complaining about Kaepernick and Nike, I predict that Nike’s sales will go through the roof due to all of the “Trump hate” floating around in the ether. The latest round of protests against President Trump will take the form of massively increasing Nike’s profits, and Kaepernick is being paid by Nike, so it doesn’t hurt him, either.
Kaepernick’s appearance in the “Just Do It” campaign instantly sparked praise for the brand — and backlash from opponents who shared videos and images of them destroying their merchandise. Nike Inc.’s stock slipped about 3 percent Tuesday in midday trading, but the deal with Kaepernick will likely “work in Nike’s favor,” Brian Nagel, a senior analyst at Oppenheimer, told Bloomberg Tuesday. And the company saw more than $43 million in media exposure, according to Apex Marketing Group, as Bloomberg reported.
In other words, there’s no such thing as “bad publicity.”
There’s no mention of how much Kaepernick takes home from the Nike deal, but rest assured, he’s not hurting financially. In fact, as a multimillionaire, he wouldn’t have to work another day in his life.
I’m finding two “negative” responses to all of this. The first is to make fun of Kaepernick such as in this example:
The second is to point out that compared to others, whatever Kaepernick thinks he’s sacrificed, it isn’t actually very much:
If you go back to the Newsweek article, you’ll find that as a result of boxer Muhammad Ali’s draft evasion during the Vietnam War, he was fined $10,000, sentenced to five years in prison, and banned from boxing for three years. Whether you agree with Ali’s decision or not, he believed in something, took action as a result, and accepted the consequences.
If I had to choose between Kaepernick and Ali as to who sacrificed more for his convictions, guess who I’d pick (hint: not Kaepernick)?
Oh, by the way, my opinion has nothing to do with Donald Trump. There’s a tendency among some folks to equate disagreeing that Kaepernick made a sacrifice, and support of “the Donald.” I don’t support Trump and disagree with a vast majority of his policies and opinions. That means I possess free will and don’t knee jerk a reaction to the current person occupying the Oval Office. The opinions stated in this blog post are independent of Trump and very much focused on Kaepernick and how both he and Nike have made a very, very smart financial decision.
Because that’s what it is when you come down to it. Okay, I have no idea how much or if Kaepernick believes in his stated protests. I can’t measure the level of his sincerity, and for all I know, he is using his relationship with Nike to increase his audience and “signal boost” his message. Maybe he’s really a good, kind, selfless man whose sole motivation is to protest America’s history of systemic racism.
I hope so, not for his sake, but for the sake of everyone who believes in him. It would be tragic if someday he were exposed as a fraud and that he was in it for the money and attention (some people want attention and notoriety more than money) rather than really caring about people. People need heroes. Right now, Kaepernick is (in all likelihood) a hero to millions. I hope for all of them that he’s not talking out of both sides of his mouth.
This is only one sign of how divided our nation has become. I know a lot of people place that schism firmly at the feet of President Trump, but it started before that, certainly within the span of the Obama administration. As this next cartoon depicts, America has been reduced, at least in the news and social media, to “Us vs. Them,” as if there are only two kinds of people in the world.
I actually believe that real life and real people are more nuanced and exist along a complex scale of beliefs, activities, biases, and many other characteristics. Nike’s tactic, though it benefits them greatly, only serves to reinforce that divide. It’s one that former President Obama was uniquely placed to heal. It’s a pity he chose a different path.
All that said, I put the quote at the top of this page for a reason. While I may have my beef with Kaepernick and Nike, certainly Nike has the right to do business as they see fit (as long as it doesn’t involve the use of sweatshops), and Kaepernick has the right to peacefully protest America’s history of racism.
EDIT: I guess if you burn your Nike shoes it’s the same thing as a KKK racist burning a cross:
EDIT 2: So according to this author at The Armchair Commentary, my merely writing this blog post is racist. No, really. Click the link and read. Here’s an excerpt:
Call it patriotism, respect for the troops, law and order, or anything else, but when white people attempt to curtail black people’s right to protest, it will always be racism.
Telling someone to shut up and play ball is racist.
Burning your shoes because Nike endorsed Kaepernick is racist.
Demanding that black people stand for the National Anthem is racist.
Getting mad because black sports figures are being ‘disrespectful’ is racist.
Silencing black protest is racist.
Only listening to the opinions of one or two black folks who agree with you is racist.
Fining black football players for protesting is racist.
Feeling entitled to entertainment, education, service or anything else from black people is racist.
Feeling entitled to the various labors of black people but getting mad when they speak out about racism is racist.
Actually, I don’t fit any of those categories, at least to the best of my knowledge. Well, I do respect active duty armed forces personnel. My Dad served in the Air Force for twenty years and did the same job for the next twenty as a civilian. He died a year ago last April. My son David served in the United States Marine Corp, and although as a Dad, it was very difficult to see him making a decision that would put him in harm’s way, I’m also proud of him. I’m sorry if the above referenced writer thinks that’s racist.
I’m not telling anyone to shut up and play ball, although I certainly feel that this writer is telling me to do so. I don’t own any Nike products, and as I said above, burning them (if I owned them) would be less than useless. No one has to stand for the national anthem. That’s what makes America free. I’m not mad at Kaepernick, I just don’t think he’s sacrificed anything. I don’t feel sorry for him, not even a little. I don’t have the power to silence anyone, even if I wanted to. I try to listen to all of the opinions that come my way on a topic, whether I agree with them or not. If black football players are being fined for whatever reason, that has nothing to do with me. I don’t even watch football and the only reason I’m aware of Kaepernick is because of all of the news coverage about him, not as a player, but as a protester. I do believe we all should have equal opportunity to access resources (not that it always works out that way), and since when have I expected black people to “labor” for me?
EDIT 3: Here we go. Donald Trump has officially shot his mouth off about this issue on twitter, and Nike customers view Kaepernick positively by a two to one margin. Just as predicted.
EDIT 4: I was a little surprised that author Steven Barnes hadn’t commented on this issue on his blog, but today he did in Just Do It. The core of his commentary is this:
I’ve seen some great spoofs of the Nike campaign recently. Some really are funny, but I suspect that the people posting them fit into one of two categories:
Don’t believe there is a mortal issue at stake. Don’t believe there is disproportionate unjustified police violence toward black people. Or:
Approve of the oppression and violence.
I hope I’ve been successful in communicating that there is actually a third option: “I don’t believe Colin Kaepernick as an individual literally sacrificed everything to engage in activism or to become Nike’s spokesperson.”
EDIT: There was another much more disturbing part of Barnes’s above-referenced blog post that I’ve been pondering. He summed up his arguments this way:
Interesting things happen when you simply start with the presumption of equality despite the (IMO) fact that you cannot ultimately “prove” equality or inequality, that everyone is ultimately making a faith-based assertion. You then have to live with the results. Equality means that I can’t assume whites are innately evil, either. However much self-serving evidence I might amass, and however satisfying that might be.
No. I actually have to live in that space, or the whole thing falls apart.
The really disturbing part I bolded, because to me (and I can’t read his mind, I can only read what he wrote), it seems like he is sorely tempted to (you should pardon the expression) “whitewash” all white people everywhere as “innately evil.” He backs off of the point, but suggests he has or could amass “evidence” supporting that conclusion. I looked up science fiction writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, since not only has Barnes written books with them, I believe they see each other socially, so he can’t mean that literally all white people everywhere are “innately evil.” However, as I said, he backed off of the point, but if I was hesitant to dialog with him before, either on his blog or in his open Facebook group, I’m definitely not going to engage him now.