The NFL’s message to an advertiser making use of a football player who has sparked many rounds of controversy for the league? Just do it.
The NFL in a statement Tuesday said it supported a new Nike ad campaign that hinges on the use of a likeness of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er who in 2016 launched what has become a cultural firestorm by sitting or kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before NFL games to call attention to matters of police brutality and social inequality.
He is currently involved in a legal battle with the NFL after filing a grievance that owners had colluded not to hire him after he became a free agent.
“The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity. We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities,” said Jocelyn Moore, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, in a statement. “The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”
Nike unveiled the latest iteration of its long-running “Just do it!” campaign, and indicated Kaepernick will be one of the faces of the effort. The free-agent released a photo of himself from the ad salvo on Twitter, with a caption that said, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The protests Kaepernick started have roiled the sport. President Donald Trump has on multiple occasions criticized the league for not keeping its players from protesting before games. There has been a ripple effect, with parties ranging from ESPN to Papa John’s getting turned around by the controversy. That isn’t likely to stop. Country musician John Rich took to social media to criticize the effort.
Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign is a Madison Avenue cornerstone. It launched in 1988 with ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, and has been seen as a way to urge consumers from all background to get more involved with sports, athleticism and staying in shape.