In 2016, American football player Colin Kaepernick decided to make a statement against police brutality and racial injustice. As a sign of protest, Kaepernick knelt when the national anthem was played before his games—a practice that caught fire in the NFL and became known as "taking a knee." This made the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback a controversial figure in the sport, and one of the many prominent personalities of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kaepernick himself explained in a post-game interview with NFL Media: "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."
Many fans of the sport have taken exception to Kaepernick's gesture. U.S. President Donald Trump himself has denounced the practice of "taking a knee," and believes that it's a show of disrespect to the American flag. Trump even infamously said, at a rally: "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!'"
Following his activism, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers, but then went unsigned through the offseason and 2017 training camps. This led many to believe that he was being blackballed for his political statements. Last November, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that its owners colluded to keep him out of the league. And just last week, it was reported that system arbitrator Stephen Burbank has denied the NFL's request to dismiss the case, which means there is sufficient evidence for it to go to trial.
As all this transpired, Kaepernick had already been signed by Nike—he has been one of the brand's athletes since 2011. But in a powerful move, Nike chose to feature him prominently now, in a campaign launched days after the arbitrator's decision, months after the NFL renewed its contract with Nike as uniform and apparel supplier, and just before the start of a new NFL season. Kaepernick is now the face of Nike's campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its famous tagline, Just Do It. Check it out:
By choosing to side with Kaepernick, Nike is making a statement and putting pressure on the NFL and NFL fans to take a stand on the issues of police brutality and racial injustice in America. In response, some right-wing conservatives have taken to boycotting Nike and destroying their own Nike products—which, if you'd think about it, is really just their loss.
Kaepernick's stand and Nike's support of a player with conviction are powerful testaments of the role sports can play in moving the world forward. They also beg the question: when Filipino athletes ever be so thoughtful and bold; and when will Filipino sports fans learn to accept that athletes are entitled to their political feelings?