Nike’s new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick was met Tuesday with predictable criticism from President Trump. However, Trump also offered a more nuanced opinion, acknowledging that while he disagreed with the sports-apparel giant partnering with the controversial former NFL quarterback, the company’s freedom to do so “is what this country is all about.”
Referring to Nike’s longtime tenancy in a building he owns in Manhattan adjacent to Trump Tower — the company left there in March for a nearby site not owned by Trump but reportedly still owes him rent for several more years — the president told the Daily Caller, “I think it’s a terrible message. Nike is a tenant of mine. They pay a lot of rent.”
“I think it’s a terrible message that they’re sending, and the purpose of them doing it, maybe there’s a reason for them doing it, but I think as far as sending a message, I think it’s a terrible message and a message that shouldn’t be sent,” Trump said, during what was described as an Oval Office interview. “There’s no reason for it.”
Nike, which has a contract through 2028 to be the NFL’s official and exclusive apparel provider, revealed Monday that Kaepernick would be one of the faces of an ad campaign pegged to the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan. An image of him was used with the phrase, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” which refers to the fact that he has been out of the NFL since becoming a free agent in March 2017.
Kaepernick has filed a grievance against the league, alleging that team owners have colluded to punish him for his social activism, most notably the protests of racial injustice and police brutality he began staging during performances of the national anthem before games in the 2016 season. Trump, meanwhile, began criticizing Kaepernick as unpatriotic while he was still a presidential candidate, and since taking office, and with the quarterback out of the league, he has repeatedly brought up protests staged by other NFL players as a means of rallying his base.
Thus Trump’s comments to the Daily Caller were arguably most notable for this remark:
“As much as I disagree with the Colin Kaepernick endorsement, in another way — I mean, I wouldn’t have done it — in another way, it is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do, but I personally am on a different side of it.”
In the past, Trump has suggested that Kaepernick and other NFL players inspired by his example should not be in the United States anymore. “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him,” Trump said in August 2016, shortly after the then-quarterback’s protests began. More recently, the president said of the continuing demonstrations, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
“I watched Colin Kaepernick, and I thought it was terrible, and then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming, and frankly the NFL should have suspended him for one game, and he would have never done it again,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity in an October 2017 interview. “I will tell you, you cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem. You cannot do that.”
Some of Trump’s most inflammatory comments about the protests came in September 2017, when he told an audience at a rally in Alabama, “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!’ ”
While those remarks led to widespread demonstrations by NFL players, and even some team owners, before the following weekend’s games, Nike’s decision to feature Kaepernick has led to calls for boycotts by some customers. Others have posted to social media images and video footage reflecting their unhappiness with the company, including burning its products.
The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that it “believes in dialogue, understanding and unity,” adding, “We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities.
“The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”
Trump has repeatedly called on the NFL to ban the protests and punish players who engage in them. The league announced in May that it was enacting a policy aimed at compelling players to stand during the anthem or remain in their respective locker rooms, but that policy has been put on hold as the NFL and its players’ union continue to negotiate on a new agreement acceptable to both sides.
Several team owners have said that Trump’s frequent criticisms have made them feel pressure to resolve to issue of the demonstrations, with the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, who has vowed to bench any Dallas player who protested, reportedly testifying in a deposition related to Kaepernick’s grievance that he heard from the president directly on the matter. Asked Tuesday about the Nike campaign, Jones said (via CBS Sports) that he could not comment because of the ongoing legal process, but he added that he had “tremendous respect for Nike as a company.”
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