Athletes/ Nike burning/ Human Rights: When “Just do it” isn’t just a phrase

8 กันยายน 2561

บทความโดย กวิสรา

Once again the whole world feels the impact when Nike released the new advertising slogan of “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”, featuring Colin Kaepernick, the famous American footballer. This decision has both raising supports from young people along with fellow athlete like Serena Williams, and ‘ignite’ the angers from a lot of others which leading to many burnings of Nike products and #NikeBoycott trending on Twitter. Even the US president, Donald Trumps, criticised the decision as well.


Many might wondered how can one advertisement cause such an impact. Let’s find out.


What “Nike” want to tell us?


Nike isn’t just the casual sportswear or lifestyle clothing, but standing among the world’s top influencers, being the symbol of young generation’s identity. Such is one of the reasons why Nike’s recent decision is so important, because not only this advertisement marked the 30th anniversary of “Just do it” campaign, but also involving Nike’s decision that choose the athlete with most socially and politically outstanding stance of this generation as well.


Colin Kaepernick begins his narration in this advertisement with “If people say your dream is crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, good. Because coined the dream crazy is not an insult, but a compliment.” The 2 minutes advertisement shows the childhood of many superstar athletes such as NBA basketballer, LeBron James, and world class tennis women, Serena Williams, back when they were not recognised as talented people. Kaepernick ends the commercial with “So don’t ask if your dream is crazy, ask if they’re crazy enough.”


When we looked back to the brand’s personality, Nike has always choose to appeared as bold, frenzied, daredevil, just like their slogan “Just do it”. Even when other sportswear tried to communicated along the same line, Nike is always the “reckless” of the group. Nike also being much more understanding and giving more acceptance of athletes just as they are, which make them more in touch with their users, along with series of Nike’s campaigns that promoted “Equality” and “Freedom of expression” under “Just do it” concept for 30 years.


In other words, it just come out in the best time.


Colin Kaepernick and Human Rights activities


Colin Kaepernick got his controversial fame just before the American National Football League 2016, when he kneeled during the national anthem as the protest to police brutality. He called for equal protection of all Americans regardless of race, and sparked the massive peaceful movement in history.



“While taking a knee is a physical display that challenges the merits of who is excluded from the notion of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, the protest is also rooted in a convergence of my moralistic beliefs, and my love for the people."

-- Kaepernick, Ambassador of Conscience award, 2018.


“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” is not just a speech for Kaepernick because when many athletes followed his lead, his fight took turns to finding the chance to get back into the field instead, as he became unemployed since 2017 after his sitting protest for injustice in US, especially toward african community.


Even when he sacrificed his job and future, Kaepernick still continued to fight by found an organization to fight against oppression around the world through education and social activism. He also funding the “Know your rights camp” campaign, which all adolescents can join for free, in order to empower education and their self-worth in the eyes of colored youth, along with teaching how to protect their rights through laws.



At the beginning of 2018, Amnesty International has given Colin Kaepernick the Ambassador of Conscience award, as the athlete and activist who inspired the whole world.


“I would like to thank Amnesty International for the Ambassador of Conscience Award. But in truth, this is an award that I share with all of the countless people throughout the world combating the human rights violations of police officers, and their uses of oppressive and excessive force. To quote Malcolm X, when he said that he, ‘will join in with anyone — I don’t care what colour you are —as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth,’ I am here to join with you all in this battle against police violence,” said Colin Kaepernick.


Marketing VS Social Standpoint


Even though Nike has the clear marketing standpoint, the message in this commercial is exactly Nike’s DNA, and no one can argue that this commercial has imperfect elements. Nonetheless, what’s more important than artistic value of the commercial is the context of the current society. If we look at the commercial without all the controversial elements, it would be just a message to not giving up on your dreams, and they can be done no matter how crazy it seem. However, with Nike’s fame with through thinking commercial, it will never be this simple.


There are varied backlashes to Nike on social media, ranging from burning of Nike products, #NikeBoycott on Twitter, all the way to 3% drop from stock market. Meanwhile Nike’s sale increase by 31% compared to last year, excluding advertising values Nike received during past weeks.



The question is, with such strong social standpoint Nike took, how does it affects their consumers?


One interpretation we could take from Nike’s decision to choose Kaepernick is that Nike took the challenge to America’s “nationality” itself. Because US’s debate on “nationality” and “conservatism” have became important since “Donald Trump” came into presidency. Especially when Trump came out to criticised the athletes, along with everyone refuse to stand up to the anthem.


Nike’s commercial has completely divided people into 2 sides: agreed and disagreed, without any possibility to straddling the fence, which is a rare decision in marketing where “fame” and “profit” are one and the same. This decision will alienated the disagreed consumers away, forcing their customer to “choose side” and losing them completely for the brand’s long term goal.

Another issues with Nike is that Nike themselves are not flawless regarding human rights. At one point Nike was under assaults from many actors regarding workforce oppression and child labors. Even though Nike has told everyone they changed, but the society still in doubt. It could be that Nike planned to build a new facade to show to the world.


And when we look back in history, many athletes who made a stance regarding the social and political issues tended to be disgraced at that moment, but raised as the “Heroes” soon after, just like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or even other NFL players like Jim Brown. Perhaps Nike has decided they want to stand side by side with the heroes eventually.


And should Nike make a right decision, they could also become hero as well, making history for themselves once more.


Sports: Public sphere or Marketing tools?


We could say that sports have been used as “public sphere” to hosted social movements for the long time. One significant example is Muhammad Ali, who back when he was at the highest of his career as the world heavyweight champion, he performed civil disobedience by refused to join US conscription for Vietnam War. The result is his arrest and confisticated of his champion belt and US boxing license. Ali also suffered backlashes from his fans that viewed his refusal as betrayal to US nationality.


Although the media lately stop to presented sports as Habermas’s “public sphere”, where it is the social space where people meet and debate issues, leading to mutual recognition of issues and decision to join social and political movement for the sake of the whole community. Rather, they present sports as business tool to reach the audiences through branding on the uniforms, stadium, and athlete’s endorsement. Due to this, sports turn into space that connected people with just rules, friendships, sportsmanship, without any social meaning at all.



In this case, Nike’ decision to pick Kaepernick is definitely not a coincidence, but to also celebrate athleticism along with humanity. Because sports is not just a physical race, but also about experience of creating game in society with rules and struggling that required cooperation, training, discipline, sportsmanship and value of humanity. Which is why sports become “social structure” that is very important to child development, as it taught not only physical development, but educated them the beginning of humanity. Nike is the world-class brand that emphatised this value.


In the end, although Colin Kaepernick’s social standpoint leads to destruction of his career and his future for the benefit of humanity that many believe he is “crazy”, but he probably retorts with what he concluded at the end of Nike’s commercial anyway; “ask if they’re crazy enough”.




ภาพจาก Nike,