Throwing The Challenge Flag On Oppression – One College Student’s Take On Kaepernick, Nike, And Kneeling


For most football players, the height of stardom is playing in the Super Bowl. But, something else was waiting for one who dared to be different. Colin Kaepernick was just an ordinary football player until August. 26, 2016 – the date that his protests of the National Anthem were noticed. Then, everything changed. Not just for Kaepernick, but for the whole nation. 

When Kaepernick and a few players protested, I did not think much of their actions. Then more players joined during the 2016 and 2017 seasons by sitting, kneeling, linking arms and standing with a raised fist. I spent more time thinking about my stance. As the 2018 season progresses the issue has caught fire again. Kaepernick applauded Miami Dolphins players Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson II for kneeling during the anthem in week one of the 2018 season. Nike recently aired an advertisement with Kaepernick as the narrator and an actor. The controversy has yet to subside and we should expect more attention to it.

Some people, including President Trump and his base, argue that the players who kneel are disrespecting the American flag, the National Anthem and our armed forces. My thoughts are the opposite. 

Kaepernick was protesting police brutality and the oppression of people of color in the United States. His goal was to help minorities gain equal rights and improve their relations with police – not to be disrespectful and to attack the country. Kaepernick is respectful, because he changed how he protested from sitting to kneeling after a meeting with former NFL player and Green Beret, Nate Boyer. Boyer and Kaepernick feel that kneeling is more respectful to the troops. Therefore, Kaepernick could respect soldiers while protesting. 

Protesting is a First Amendment right. The NFL players are using this right to raise awareness about an issue they care about. Our troops fight for our freedom to use those rights. Why would anyone think that players mean to disrespect soldiers? The players are using rights that the military protects. Troops should recognize that these players are active in using the rights they work so hard to protect. The players are probably thankful that the troops protect their right to protest. It would be wrong for a soldier to say they disapprove of free speech when that is what they fight for. Would a soldier only fight for the people of a nation they agree with? No. If they do, they are not a soldier fit to protect the U.S. The NFL players are not meaning to disrespect anything or anyone. They just want to be heard and to improve the U.S. 

However, I can understand the disapproval of where the players protest. A sports game is where fans go to get away from politics. Some do not like the intersection. However, the venue is convenient and has many eyes on it. Of course, it is easy to kneel for a few seconds and call it a day. It is not easy to do as Kaepernick and Malcolm Jenkins, of the Philadelphia Eagles, have done. Kaepernick has donated over $1 million to community organizations and hosted his Know Your Rights Camp in multiple cities. Jenkins has his own foundation that helps kids in underserved communities. For any other NFL players that want to protest, back it up off the field.

But, about the venue. Some people argue that sports should be free of politics. Athletes should just play and keep their mouths shut. But, the players are U.S. citizens. They live in this country, where we are all equal in what we can say. They have as much stake in the success of this nation as anyone else. The amount of money they make does not change that. Even LeBron James suffers from racism. James’ gate to his California home was spray-painted with a racial slur in 2017. Athletes should be encouraged to speak up for what they believe in because of their prominence.

Unfortunately, for Kaepernick, speaking up cost him his football career. Kaepernick became a free agent in 2017. He has not played a down of football since. He has all the skills, but his activism is a potential firestorm for teams.

Which brings me to the latest controversy involving Kaepernick. Nike’s advertisement for the 30-year anniversary of their “Just Do It,” slogan featuring the former quarterback asks the audience to question if their dreams are crazy enough. As well as another advertisement with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” over a picture of Kaepernick’s face. 

I thought both advertisements were powerful. Nike delivered a message that inspires athletes and non-athletes alike to pursue their dreams. The commercial features Shaquem Griffin, a Seattle Seahawk with only one hand. Another is Alphonso Davies, a refugee turned professional soccer player at 15-years-old. As well as Zeina Nassar, a five-time Berlin boxing champion who has faced discrimination for being a Muslim woman in her sport. All the athletes in the commercial are role models.

Then we have Kaepernick. Is he on the same level as the others? Yes and no. Kaepernick has faced obstacles as a backup quarterback. He has believed in achieving a dream just as every athlete has. But, he had a choice to start his protests which altered his life. The other athletes did not have a choice to be born into poverty or with one arm. Kaepernick does not entirely fit the narrative of the commercial. I think he fits the bill as the narrator only. Kaepernick is more activist than athlete. Of course, Nike could have chosen another narrator. But, they chose Kaepernick because of his past, his present and what people think of him. The message may have resonated with more people if Nike had chosen someone else to narrate. 

Speaking of resonation, some people are tired of Kaepernick and have turned on Nike. What better way to turn on a brand than to put a flame to your clothes? Yes, you heard me right. Videos surfaced of people burning their Nike shoes. But, you already bought the shoes and now you are out of a good pair. You gave them your money so burning the shoes is pointless. If you really care about your country and troops how about you donate your Nike clothes to a veteran’s charity?

Does Nike’s involvement do more harm than good to this national conversation though? Before the advertisement no one was burning shoes or boycotting Nike. They were still mad at Kaepernick and players who protest. But, Nike added another log to a fire that was already causing division. Is it acceptable that Nike is making money off this societal issue? That is surely something to think about. But, Nike is adding to the conversation that needs to be kept going. 

A large portion of the focus cannot be on Nike though. It needs to be on those who disapprove of Kaepernick and other players who protest. It is time they put themselves in the shoes of minorities across the U.S. These people are desperate. They have lost so many in their communities. There is no way out. Just because they do not come from your America does not mean they are not American. Yet, you treat them like they are aliens. Do you best to love and respect your neighbor as you would yourself. That is step one.