Nothing like a culture war to get the ol’ protest juices going. Owners of Nike paraphernalia, irked over the company on Monday centering its throwback ad campaign around Colin Kaepernick, immediately took to their backyards and driveways with trash cans and lighter fluid, with clenched fists raised and pointed defiantly toward Beaverton.
Sneakers, shirts, sweat shirts, hats . . . all of it stamped with the iconic Nike logo . . . up in smoke. Polyester to ashes. Dust to dust. Swooshes to cinders.
It sure made for some great YouTube viewing and a proliferation of #BurnYourNikes across social media. Yep, Nike consumers sticking it to the man, in a retro-1960s sorta way. Across the Lower 48 and beyond, anguished screams of “The only good Nike is a dead Nike” and “Hell, no, we won’t go Swoosh no more.”
Go ahead, irate ex-Nike-ites, knock yourselves out, if burning your own clothes is what you think will strip Nike bare. But that’s not going to happen.
Instead, your burning desire has left you short a few hundred bucks’ worth of dry goods for your next Super Bowl party. And Nike, with a market valuation of around $127 billion, an increase of some $93 billion the last five years, is poised to rake in a few more billion in sales from the other sideline that’s laughing at your attempt at flame fame.
Make no mistake, Nike used Kaepernick to troll President Trump, virtually one year after Trump tossed gasoline over the nearly extinguished fire of peaceful sideline protest that Kaepernick initiated in the fall of 2016.
In full calculated glory, in the midst of ginning up an Alabama crowd to make Luther Strange an elected US senator (whoops), a fiery Trump advocated for NFL owners to “get that [expletive] off the field right now!” if confronted again with a player, such as Kaepernick, kneeling on the sideline during the playing of the national anthem.
“You know, some owner is going to do that,” added Trump. “He’s going to say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag — he’s fired!’ And the owner, they don’t know it . . . they’ll be the most popular person in the country.”
Uh, not really. His NFL miscalculation aside, the visit to Alabama turned out all kinds of wrong for Trump. Strange ultimately lost out to an embattled Roy Moore in a Republican runoff and then Moore, exposed by the Washington Post for hectoring teenage girls around shopping malls decades earlier, tanked to Democrat Doug Jones in the general election.
But Trump’s visit did get him an NFL-based culture war, one that lingers even now with the league back in full action this weekend with the start of the 2018 season.
The league, one of Trump’s many favorite targets to skewer, still doesn’t know how it’s going to deal with players if they kneel come anthem time, protesting not the flag but the country’s continued flaws of race relations and related police brutality. Owners were only too happy to see the protests all but dead and gone a year ago, until Trump picked up the issue and ragdolled it needlessly across the dais in Alabama.
Trump also has encouraged fans to up and leave the games if the players kneel, yet another risible miscalculation on the part of the former USFL investor/owner. It’s one thing to torch an old pair of $150 sneakers. But put a match to a $200 ticket before kickoff, while still holding a $13 draft beer? Really?
“When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee . . . ” Trump told the crowd that same night in Alabama, “. . . the only thing you could do better is if you see it, even it’s one player, leave the stadium.”
Now we have the Nike ad, featuring a tight facial shot of Kaepernick, accompanied by copy that reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Overstated, no question. We’re not talking Muhammad Ali here.
Kaepernick, now 30, can’t find work, and it’s obvious his decision to take a knee all but booted away his career. However, according to reports in the spring of 2017, the Broncos were prepared to acquire him via trade from the 49ers, but he refused to restructure a contract that carried a $15.9 million cap hit for that upcoming season. Yet to be employed since leaving the 49ers that offseason, he hopes to get his day in court with a collusion case against NFL owners, but Denver could be a significant asterisk against making his case.
Kaepernick believed in something. But he also might have simply misread the jobs market.
The Nike ad, of course, is bigger than Kaepernick. By choosing him as the centerpiece to commemorate 30 years of its trademark “Just Do It” slogan, it was endorsing the rights of the entire NFL rank and file to stand up, or kneel down, for their beliefs. Thankfully, as of September 2018, our government still protects that right.
Those players now could be inclined even more to act, given that superstars LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Tom Brady all subsequently appeared to endorse the Nike ad. Brady promptly “liked” a picture of it on GQ’s Instagram page. Williams tweeted that she was “especially proud to be part of the Nike family today.” And James said in New York, during an award acceptance speech: “I stand with Nike all day, every day.”
Meanwhile, tiny little fire pits burn among the indignant, aggrieved ex-Nike customers believing they’re on the right side of history.
Kaepernick spoke with his knee and continues to pay a price.
The backyard burners speak with fire and wisps of smoke that soon will disappear.
Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought” appears regularly in the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.