Colin Kaepernick will be one of the faces of Nike's latest "Just Do It" campaign, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, according to a tweet from the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
Technically Kaepernick, who has been a Nike spokesperson since 2011, is a free agent, but he has not signed with a team since the 2016 season. He has since filed a collusion lawsuit against the NFL alleging that his inability to gain a position with a team stems from his taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, which has polarized football fans.
The first glimpse of Kaepernick's campaign with Nike holds the tagline: "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything," according to his tweet. Nike didn't immediately return Retail Dive's request for comment, and the company hasn't officially announced its new "Just Do It" roster. But the news ignited a social media firestorm on Monday, and in some cases actual fires as some fans posted photos of burning Nike gear.
Kaepernick attracted the spotlight in 2016 after launching a protest during the pre-game singing of the national anthem in an effort to protest police brutality against people of color. Several veterans groups objected to him sitting down and suggested he kneel instead. Since then, he and other players "taking a knee" has polarized the nation, with President Trump weighing in against the players and fans taking both sides, and the controversy blamed for falling television ratings.
"Nike's campaign will generate both attention and discussion which is, arguably, one of its central aims," GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders said in comments emailed to Retail Dive. "However, it is also a risky strategy in that it addresses, and appears to take sides on, a highly politicized issue. This means it could ultimately alienate and lose customers, which is not the purpose of a marketing campaign."
Of course, risk, and its rewards, is just what the campaign is about. And this marketing may actually be a safe play precisely because it's daring. These days, there's mounting evidence that shoppers don't want retailers to sit on the sidelines, even on controversial matters. "Consumers want brands to take visible positions on social issues," Matt Powell, The NPD Group's Senior Industry Advisor, Sports, told Retail Dive in an email. "I do not see this having a material impact on Nike sales. Those that would boycott Nike are not the core demographic for sneaker sales."
On a more practical matter, while the NFL has insisted that the Kaepernick controversy is bad for business, his new deal with Nike suggests the opposite.
And while Twitter on Monday swirled with both condemnation and support for the new tie-up, not everyone took the announced partnership and protests to it so seriously.