How Nike harms Colin Kaepernick’s activism

By HUNTER PAULISON | September 13, 2018

When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. (17)

About two years ago, former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick sparked controversy when he knelt during the national anthem to protest systemic racism in the U.S. 

This time, Nike sparked controversy by selecting Kaepernick as the face of its “Just Do It” campaign. The business deal has already led some of Kaepernick’s original opponents to boycott and even burn Nike products. In their minds, Nike is legitimizing a social cause by promoting one of its figureheads. 

However, it’s questionable whether the recognition of a movement by a large commercial entity does in fact benefit said movement. Especially when the business in question has as revolting a history as Nike’s of abusing workers, there is due cynicism in regarding any of its politically charged stunts. One should in fact be rightfully suspicious as to whether a corporation can have any sincere intention of activism or seeks rather to commoditize a social cause or controversy for its own gain.

Who or what can be rightfully deemed an activist? A public personality may well declare their support for a cause, but their unique position as financial assets to dominant corporate entities makes their so-called activism more than suspect. In a business deal, both parties contribute their financial assets in pursuit of financial gain, not social progress. Kaepernick’s endorsement by Nike is little more than a profit-driven relationship. Business entities function primarily to create profit for shareholders. That is the only shared interest of all parties with control over the company. 

In addition, entire careers have been spent uncovering Nike’s human rights abuses. Corporations like Nike can only exist as amoral sociological machines seeking to maximize earnings and publicity. The decision a company faces in deciding whether to promote a social or political stance is not one that concerns values, morals or personal philosophy. Rather, it concerns cutthroat cost-benefit analysis. If a corporation’s alignment with a cause would be perceived favorably by the majority of its consumer base, then the brand declares its support. If not, it either remains silent on the issue, claims neutrality or may even take an aggressively contrary stance if the profit is to be found there.

Co-opting the controversy does not make Nike a socially conscious entity. It simply means that the company’s board of directors judged there to be more monetary gain than loss to be had through allying with a figure like Kaepernick.

Kaepernick himself is not absolved of this parasitic capitalism either. Although we can’t claim to know his true opinions, the end result of his endorsement damages his cause more than aids it. An advertisement deal is a economic action guided by the only true principle of business: profit, not justice.

Therefore, this commercial partnership deserves anything but the praise of social advocates sympathetic to the cause. Instead, it demands the utter disgust of any person genuinely invested in bringing about societal progress. It represents the carnivorous instinct of large corporations to turn injustice and controversy into commodities to be exploited and nothing more. 

If there is to be any justice, any hope of attaining an American society which treats all its citizens with due respect, then the predation of activism by inherently stagnant and abusive institutions must be resisted and reviled. Individuals can fight for a cause with sincerity. Businesses like Nike cannot. Amoral institutions, commercial bureaucracies and capitalist transactions are the pillars of stagnation which must be combated, not looked to for moral or political guidance.

Hunter Paulison is a freshman from Pequannock, N.J. planning to major in Cognitive Science.

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