Nike's only responsibility is to its shareholders, and has been upkeeping that responsibility very well. (Alexander Yagoda)
Nike's only responsibility is to its shareholders, and has been upkeeping that responsibility very well.

Alexander Yagoda

Nice, Nike

" Believe in something. Even if it believes sacrificing everything."

September 20, 2018

The mass kneeling of football players during the national anthem is old news, but with a little bit of privatized interference, the issue is back in the spotlight. For those unaware, prior to a football game in Sept. 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then the quarterback for the San Fransisco 49ers, opted to kneel during the singing of the national anthem in protest of the then-recent police shooting of the black young man Michael Brown, saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” In essence, he was refusing to support, even indirectly, the government that allowed such a horrendous act to occur.

Now, two years after the original incidence of Kaep’s kneeling, Nike has released an advertisement campaign based on the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it believes sacrificing everything,” overlaid on different people’s faces, the most popular one now being Colin Kaepernick’s. The “sacrifice everything” likely refers to Kaep’s recent unemployment after becoming a free agent and not signing to a team (though his previous team  publicly stated that they “were very open” to resigning him after his contract expired).

As with most things even remotely dealing with race, the new ad campaign has brought attention to Nike and started an argument over whether or not private corporations like Nike should use ongoing sociopolitical issues to promote their brand. In the eyes of Nike, Kaepernick and myself, it is fine. From Nike’s standpoint, this is either a calculated risk or a very bold and brash move, very much in the style of “just doing it,” but it has paid off, and Nike’s stock is up four dollars a share since the announcement of Kaepernick’s deal. The company has made more than six billion dollars since then to boot, which in just three weeks is more than half of what they would otherwise make in a financial quarter. Regardless of one’s opinion on the topic, you just have to give it up for Nike’s wild success.

However, I do believe that Nike is justified in the running of this ad campaign, but not for the reasons most people hold. Nike is a publicly traded company, which in most cases means that the company only has a responsibility to their shareholders, a responsibility Nike has upheld very well in the recent weeks, with the possible blip of an exception occurring immediately after the announcement with a burst of sold Nike shares, which were gobbled up by people who believed Nike’s stock value would go up because of the deal. Those buyers, depending on how much stock they bought, now range from having slightly more spending money to significantly increased wealth. Now that all Nike shareholders, old and new, are now wealthier than they were before the announcement of the deal, Nike has definitely done their economic due diligence to their shareholders. As a result of this, they are completely justified in their utilization of underlying politics for company gain. In the end, while the clear support of one side a major political issue has certainly angered supporters of the other side, with some of those opposed going so far as to burn or deface their Nike products, they still have not mistaken.

Then again, there are some people in the opposition that make reasonable points, like Nike’s hypocrisy in promoting social justice in the United States but continuing to use child labor in Asia to manufacture their products. While such a practice is indubitably immoral, the fact that it is possible for it to happen in the first place is reason enough to justify it. Once again, Nike’s primary focus is fiscally succeeding for its shareholders, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by reducing operational costs, which unfortunately includes worker’s wages.

While this is in no way a defense of Nike’s business practices, Nike is only exploiting a system made to be exploited. Capitalism is a vicious system, where if you are not on the top, you might get gobbled up, and even at the top you have to look out for people chasing your spot. If it is hard to come around to this viewpoint, it is hard to blame you, but an easy tip for getting your head around ideas like these are to just repeat in your head “The freer the market, the freer the people” until you get it.

Wrapping this issue up like the complicated mess it is, is the curious instance of people crossing traditional party lines on the issue. The right, which generally supports free trade and market exploitation (in this instance of the nation’s political climate), is vehemently opposed to Nike’s campaign, but understandably so, as Nike is supporting the number one supporter of not supporting racial violence, which the right has various stances on. Far more interesting, is what’s going on on the other side of the political spectrum. As the years passed and the traditional left got replaced by socialism in disguise, the majority of Democrats adopted views that became more opposed to an unregulated international market, which Nike has been exploiting for two decades, are now rallying behind Nike as the spearhead for their social justice movement. Crazy? Yes. Surprising? No. As far as support of a political party on a policy-by-policy issue goes, the left has been clustering more on social issues than economic ones, and the few economic ones they focus on are to social ends, like tax rates. As a result, though confusing at first, it makes some sense why this issue has caused party lines to be redrawn.

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