Extending Kaepernick deal bold, controversial move by Nike

Colin Kaepernick (center) was announced as the lead image for Nike’s 30th anniversary celebration of its Just Do It campaign, setting off a firestorm from commentators onthe left and right as well as social media. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

The move by Nike to extend the contract of their athlete endorser, Colin Kaepernick, is an aggressive and risky step in the highly competitive sports apparel world. For sure it is a bold move by Nike, but bolder than just keeping him under contract is building a whole new campaign around him focused on the 30th anniversary of their most successful campaign, “Just do it.”

Kenneth L. Shropshire is CEO of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State

Since this occurred I have been asked by many – Has this ever happened before? The first thought is that politics and a single athlete have not been so deeply intertwined in this modern era, so it could not have happened. For the legends in politics and sports it was different: Muhammad Ali had virtually no endorsements when he refused to be inducted into the U.S. military in 1967 and Arthur Ashe in his fight against South African apartheid, was not so out of the American mainstream to have his racquets and other endorsements disrupted. Think of endorsers who have been cut off before: Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova, Michael Vick, Lance Armstrong. These athletes all missed out for non-political topics: domestic problems, drugs, dog fighting and PEDs.

The true uniqueness is beginning the campaign in the midst of the athlete’s involvement in a political controversy. Endorsers came around to Ali once he was a beloved legend. The same is occurring for political protestors John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the 50th anniversary of their protest.

The one other time I recall a political tie was the brief And 1 sneaker company campaign with Latrell Sprewell nearly two decades ago. There Sprewell, who as a Portland Trailblazer wore wearing cornrows and famously choked his head coach, is heard saying, as his hair is being braided and the controversial Jimi Hendrix version of the national anthem is being played, “People say I’m the American Nightmare, I say, I’m the American Dream.”

This fit perfectly with the trash talking street ball imagery of the And 1 brand . It was a progression. For Nike, this is quite a distance away from “Just Do It” but we will see in time where this ends. The one big question, beyond the impact on Nike’s market (on day one both its stock and the stock of main competitor adidas were down, so no judgment yet), what conversation did Nike leadership have with the NFL? The two are long-term partners. Does the NFL have a national anthem policy resolution that will mesh with this Nike campaign? We will soon know the answer to that as well.

Kenneth L. Shropshire is the CEO of the Global Sport Institute and adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport as Arizona State University and Endowed Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Among his 13 books is Sport Matters: Leadership Power and the Quest for Respect in Sports.

A sampling of some of the reaction from Twitter: