Colin Kaepernick and the place of boycotts

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author: victor oriola | contributor


Au Kirk via Wikimedia Commons

One boycott in particular has dominated the news for the past week

Boycott culture has become a prominent feature of this era, and there have been several notable boycotts this year. The boycott of the NRA and organizations supporting them is one by gun-control advocates, and the boycott of Nordstrom following their decision to pull underperforming Ivanka Trump merchandise from stores is another by supporters of President Trump. Boycotts have become a tactic used by both sides of the political divide to advance their ideological agenda, and as a result, we’re witnessing a lot of them and counter-boycotts as well.  

However, one boycott in particular has dominated the news for the past week and may do so for the weeks to come. For those of you that are not quite up to speed, I am referring to the Nike boycott as a response to the casting of Colin Kaepernick as the poster boy in a new advertising campaign celebrating thirty years of Nike’s iconic slogan, “Just Do It.” 

The TL;DR of this boycott is that Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, knelt during the national anthem on Sept. 1, 2016 to draw attention to the brutality and violence that people of colour suffer at the hands of law enforcement. This noble display and lawful exercise of Kaepernick’s constitutionally protected right to speak turned into an ugly and controversial talking point for right-wingers. Kaepernick’s actions have been labeled “unpatriotic”, “treasonous” and “un-American.” However, I can think of nothing more American than a display of civic disobedience and a willingness to rebel against the status quo. America itself was born from the willingness of the founding fathers to rebel against the monarchy. Great Americans like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are notable in history because of civic disobedience. So if speaking out for a cause that one believes in is “un-American”, then Colin Kaepernick is in good company. But I digress. 

Colin’s contract was not renewed upon its expiry, and he was not signed by any of the other teams. Some would argue, as is their right, that he simply isn’t good enough for the NFL. Others would say that perhaps the teams in the NFL do not want the negative publicity that might come with signing somebody who, in the eyes of some, protests against the flag and the national anthem. The more cynical, and in my opinion the most likely, scenario is that Kaepernick has been blacklisted, singled out because of his public activism. He might not be Tom Brady, but certainly a lot of the teams in the NFL could do much worse than signing Colin. The argument that he has been frozen out because he isn’t that good doesn’t hold any water for me. 

So here we have a man who voiced his opinion, and is facing retribution and a loss of earnings for it. Nevertheless, he persisted. Perhaps the most admirable thing is that he backed up his words, and kneeling, with tangible actions. His time in the wilderness has been spent pursuing activist causes, pledging to donate upwards of a million dollars to a wide variety of charities that tackle issues like education and social justice. Here’s where Nike comes in. Their slogan, “Just Do It,” is supposed to convey an inspirational message that encourages people to go ahead and tackle whatever obstacle is between them and something they want to achieve. For them, Kaepernick was a good fit and, as such, they made him an ambassador of their brand. 

This decision, so far, has proven to be a wise one. Online sales are up 31 per cent and as of the time of writing, their stock is projected to increase by up to 15 per cent in the coming year – despite the backlash from those with right-leaning persuasions. This decision was a calculated business decision on the part of Nike. They have men and women who are paid to run the numbers, the numbers pointed to a profitable outcome, and I am under no impression that they would have taken this step if it was not going to be profitable.  

The increase in sales is evidence that some members of the public support Nike’s decision, but there are also quite a few who do not. Several people have taken to damaging their Nike apparel, with some people removing the famous swoosh from their socks, shirts and shorts. Others have gone as far as setting their Nike shoes on fire. This isn’t the first time visceral dislike of a company has led people to destroy products that they purchased with their own money. Earlier this year, the internet was saturated with videos of conservatives smashing their Keurig coffee makers. Personally, I do not see the sense in destroying your own property because you disagree with a company. If the objective of your protest is to hit the company where it hurts the most, then burning your own shoes doesn’t amount to much. They already have your money. You could, for example, sell your used shoes to someone who would otherwise have purchased them from Nike, thus depriving Nike of revenue. Better still, you could donate them to a cause that aligns with your ideology. Burning your Nike shoes amounts to giving Nike free publicity and little else. 

Police brutality, especially against minorities, is an issue, and every person or organization that makes an effort to highlight it is doing society a service that should be commended. All of that said, this should not distract from the fact that some of Nike’s business practices are still exploitative and should be addressed. But that’s a topic for another day.  

For now, I will leave you with the words of Howard Zinn. 

Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”   

So, if you ever feel the need to protest anything you believe to be an injustice, just do it.

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