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COLUMN: Do not ignore Nike's exploitative past

Nike’s latest ad campaign has sparked controversy. It features former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who can no longer play in the league presumably because of his protest.

Kaepernick knelt during the anthem at NFL games to protest police brutality and the treatment of minorities in the United States.

Some have deemed Kaepernick’s kneeling disrespectful to the flag, U.S. and U.S. troops. Many of these individuals take issue with Nike’s affiliation with Kaepernick and his message.

The ad is a black and white close-up of Kaepernick’s face with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

Nike’s implied support for Kaepernick’s protest has caused many people to take to the internet to share their disappointment in the company. Videos were posted to social media of people who had cut the swoosh off their tube socks and burned their shoes. The hashtag #BoycottNike has been trending on Twitter.

For today, I will put aside the fact the Keurig-smashers are at it again, ripping their homes apart one brand name item at a time to own "the libs." I will put aside the irony of destroying a product that has already been purchased, particularly when this destruction is in the name of veterans, many of whom could benefit from the donation of said products. I will put aside the fact that many veterans have openly stated support of Kaepernick and his cause. I will put aside the fact that an active method to ensure the well-being of the troops is to vote against candidates eager to use military force, not setting your Nike Elites ablaze. 

I will not put aside Nike and its wrongdoings.

This is not because I take issue with Kaepernick. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I am entirely in support of him and his cause.

It’s Nike’s exploitative tendencies that are goading me and, I fear, going unnoticed.

Yes, the company has provided Kaepernick with a platform for his message, which will help him since he will not be playing in the NFL this fall. It has done so in exchange for the use of Kaepernick’s face to sell products.

Additionally, it has donated to Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights campaign, an effort to educate young people on how to navigate situations with law enforcement .

While any money toward this cause can be put to good use, the contribution is undoubtedly a public relations decision on Nike’s part, not an act of altruism.

Nike’s donation is not its only calculated move. Its decision to team up with Kaepernick was a marketing strategy with positive side effects. Kaepernick’s ability to spread his message off the field is of little to no importance to Nike in comparison with sales. And Kaepernick will sell.

In fact, its online sales jumped 31 percent from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4 following the release of the Kaepernick ad. The losses from any consumers now boycotting Nike were accounted for before the public ever saw the ad. There is much more to be financially gained for Nike from markets that will appreciate the Kaepernick ad and its message. 

I take issue with Nike’s manipulation of a protest into an advertising campaign. Civil rights movements should not be exploited for capital gain, but Nike is doing exactly that. While Kaepernick has given up a great deal in his protest, Nike has risked nothing. It took a soft stand on an issue once the hypothetical calculations showed money could be made under the guise of morals. 

In fact, the company has shown a disregard for morals over the years. Notorious for its horrible sweatshops, Nike did not sacrifice its stock value, production rates or profit to provide better working conditions.

Though conditions have supposedly improved over the years for those involved in product production, they are by no means satisfactory. In 2016, the Worker Rights Consortium reported physical abuse, bathroom restrictions, forced overtime and workers collapsing at their stations at the Nike plant in Hansae, Vietnam. The irony is apparent in an advertisement that encourages sacrifice in the name of conviction.

I realize that Kaepernick will benefit from a platform for his message. That is something Nike can and will provide him. Keeping this dialogue alive is of the utmost importance.

Nike is the disappointment here. Not because it is supporting Kaepernick and his cause, but because it isn't. If Nike were truly in support of Kaepernick, it would not be holding contracts with the same NFL that boxed him out for his protest. Instead, Nike is profiting off of a movement for racial justice, and consequently the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, while continuing to make jerseys for NFL teams. Clearly, money is Nike’s only real concern, and it’ll exploit anyone to make more of it.

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