Lifestyle

Jeneé Osterheldt

Nike play makes it clear: Kaep still runs the ball

Colin Kaepernick, pictured in 2016, as the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press/File
Colin Kaepernick, pictured in 2016, as the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.

Nike may be outfitting the NFL, but when it comes to standing with Kaep, they just did it.

On Monday, Colin Kaepernick tweeted out his ad for the 30th anniversary of Nike’s Just Do It campaign.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” the caption reads.

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And he has. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback hasn’t played ball since he became a free agent in March 2017.

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When he started sitting — and eventually kneeling — during the anthem to protest brutality and oppression, he took on the tradition of Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and a long list of elders who used their platform to fight for justice.

He has accused the NFL of blackballing him for his actions. The organization certainly tried to keep Kaepernick from suing them for collusion. Last week, an arbitrator rejected the request.

President Trump and the league have tried to make players stand.

There were threats of suspensions and fines. That was halted. But the league has yet to reach a compromise with the NFL Players Association. Thursday Night Football starts this week.

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But players still stand, sit, and raise fists. And the brand clothing all 32 NFL teams just ensured Kaepernick’s legacy isn’t silenced.

He has been signed to Nike since 2011, when he was a second-round draft pick. But there’d been no marketing over the past two years.

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America, told ESPN.

Not everyone agrees. While Nike gets behind the movement, another company goes the way of Papa John’s and gets it twisted. Garieri Jewelers of Sturbridge launched a billboard on Route 20 featuring a man proposing to his girlfriend on a football field.

“If you’re going to take a knee this season, please have a ring in your hand,” it reads.

Bad call, y’all.

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Owner Scott Garieri said it’s about Marketing 101, not racism. His family has been getting good feedback for the most part, he said. But there have been disgusting threats.

“People have been getting on one knee for hundreds of years,” he said. “All we’re saying is if you’re going to take a knee, have a ring in your hand. It’s in no way meant to be disrespectful and anyone who takes it as disrespectful is part of what’s wrong in society. Everything has to be taken so seriously.”

Just saying — the brutalization of black bodies is a serious matter.

For Concepts, a Boston-based sneaker boutique, the Nike ad made them want to get involved.

“It’s the first thing I saw when I woke up this morning,” Concepts marketing manager Justin Kirkland-Smith said of the ad. “My wife turned to me and said, ‘This is awesome.’ ”

There’s a fine line between riding with the crowd and making a powerful statement, Kirkland- Smith says.

“Sneaker culture is comprised of so many different walks of life, and Nike being a colossal giant in this industry, for them to speak up, it’s a powerful message.”

It’s also profitable. Even without a team, Kaepernick’s jersey was one of the top 50 best-selling jerseys last year, according to the NFLPA.

Garieri asked me during an interview what these athletes have done for their community. A lot.

Kaepernick has raised more than a million dollars for more than 41 charities. He’s in the streets, meeting the people where they are — handing out suits to parolees, donating food, raising the issues. His Nike deal is said to include a donation to his Know Your Rights campaign.

Jacques Slade, sneaker culture authority and YouTube influencer, has worked with all of the major sneaker brands including Nike.

“It’s an interesting time because you have to balance the profit of it all versus the messaging,” Slade said. “Kaep is actively involved and doing things to create change and it’s great for Nike. I appreciate the extra support and them extending the fight to a bigger audience, but it’s a challenge to see where it’s going when they are going to profit off it.”

But with all major sneaker brands benefiting so heavily off black culture, shouldn’t they take a stand for the people who keep their pockets fat?

As for the #NikeBoycott and the people so outraged over Kaepernick as a Nike poster boy, burning the shoes they already paid for, cutting up their funky socks, and swoosh-shaming won’t change the message.

“I don’t think a boycott will be successful,” Slade said. “I think it’s all for show on social media, this political firestorm will pass. I don’t think many of them are really going to stop spending their money with Nike. Adidas and Puma are also standing for social justice. Where are they going to go?”

PUMA and Meek Mill partnered up for the WOKE collection with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Gathering for Justice to fight racial inequity in the social justice system. PUMA named Jay-Z as a creative director and has a collection with Roc Nation’s Emory Jones, “Bet on Yourself,” with a message to persevere against all odds.

A post shared by Meek Mill (@meekmill) on

Last year, Pharrell Williams and Adidas launched “Don’t Be Quiet Please,” encouraging people to speak out with love. Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters wore the cleats, with “Liberty” on one sole and “Justice For All” on the other when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs last season.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank stepped down from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council months after the brand’s biggest name, Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, critiqued his support and declined Trump’s invite to the White House.

On Tuesday, headlines would have you believe Nike lost shares due to the Kaepernick ad. Slade says that’s false.

“That’s more related to NAFTA,” he said. “All of the brands were down today and suggesting it’s because of Kaep is a false narrative.”

He’s right. Puma and Adidas are down, too.

But the message is up. Kaepernick won’t be silenced. Those of us fighting for black lives will continue to fight for equity and justice.

Despite what naysayers think, no one is disrespecting the military. This is a protest against racism, oppression, and police violence.

And in case anyone forgot, Army vet and former Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer helped Kaepernick craft kneeling as a form of protest rather than sitting. Boyer stood by his side as he knelt.

“Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect,” he told “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” “When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.”

It’s not an anthem protest. It’s not disrespectful to the country. It’s a show of love.

And even without an NFL job, Kaep is doing the work for the people. Fighting for freedom? Just do it.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com or on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.