Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has been a polarizing figure since becoming the first NFL player to stage protests of racial injustice during pregame renditions of the national anthem. Trump, meanwhile, has seized upon the issue of protesting NFL players on social media and during rallies in front of his supporters.
The 90-second ad showed a variety of athletes, including the Lakers’ LeBron James and tennis star Serena Williams, and it ended with the slogan: “It’s only crazy until you do it. Just do it.” Kaepernick, who provided the voice-over for the ad and appeared toward the end of it, has been out of the NFL since becoming a free agent in March 2017, and he has filed a grievance against the NFL that accuses team owners of colluding to ostracize him because of his activism and his central connection to the protests that some players have continued.
Nike, meanwhile, is the official and exclusive provider of NFL apparel, and its deal with the league is set to run until 2028. Following the revelation Monday that Kaepernick, who reportedly has been under contract with Nike since 2011, would be involved in an ad campaign, the NFL said in a statement that it “believes in dialogue, understanding and unity” and embraces “the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities.”
Trump said Tuesday that Nike’s use of Kaepernick sends “a terrible message.” On Wednesday, the president noted the NFL’s drop in TV ratings in claiming on Twitter that “Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts,” and he said that he would find the league’s games “hard to watch” until all players stood for the flag.
Hegseth interviewed Trump at the rally and brought up the anthem controversy. The interview aired Friday morning:
Hegseth: Mr. President tonight is the first NFL game. They don’t have as many viewers as they used to. From Colin Kaepernick, to the NFL, to now Nike – who’s going to win this cultural showdown of standing for the anthem?
Trump: We are. We are going to win. I don’t know what the NFL is doing. Honestly, I don’t know what the NFL is doing. From what I understand it’s in contracts that you have to stand for the national anthem. In fact they have something where it says you will stand, you will have the helmet on the ground and the hand on the heart. That’s what it says. I don’t know why they’re not enforcing it. And in cases where they don’t have it, you know they had a new thing where, they don’t have to do that, you don’t have to kneel, you can go back into the locker room. I think that’s worse than kneeling in a certain way, you’re going back in. That shows that you just have no respect for the anthem and the flag. I don’t like what Nike did. I don’t think it’s appropriate what they did. I honor the flag. I honor our national anthem and most of the people in this country feel the same way. They feel the same way.
Kaepernick tweeted out a two-minute version of the Nike ad on Wednesday. In addition to James and Williams, it featured Kenyan distance runner Eliud Kipchoge and lesser-known athletes including Isaiah Bird, a 10-year-old wrestler who was born without legs; German boxer Zeina Nassar; wheelchair basketball standout Megan Blunk; Canadian soccer phenom Alphonso Davies; Seahawks rookie Shaquem Griffin; and triathlete Charlie Jabaley.
“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, good. Stay that way,” Kaepernick said in his voice-over, before appearing on-screen toward the end of the ad. “Because what nonbelievers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult; it’s a compliment.”
“He’s done a lot for the African American community, and it’s cost him a lot. It’s sad,” Williams said of Kaepernick on Tuesday. “Having a huge company back him … could be a controversial reason for this company, but they’re not afraid. I feel like that was a really powerful statement to a lot of other companies.”
James, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump, has shared on social media both an image of Kaepernick from the campaign and the two-minute ad. In November, James had invoked Martin Luther King Jr. in saying of the “blackballed” ex-quarterback, “I’ve commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him.”
Nike’s use of 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 National Association of Police Organizations also called for a boycott of Nike over its support for the former Super Bowl participant, who has emphasized his opposition to police brutality, and the National Fraternal Order of Police condemned the campaign. The National Black Police Association, on the other hand, said in a statement that it “believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s stance is in direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for — the protection of a people, their human rights, their dignity, their safety and their rights as American citizens,” and other police officers have previously rallied in his support.
Several Eagles players have staged demonstrations during the anthem over the past two seasons, and after some members of the team said they would skip the traditional champions’ visit to the White House, Trump made a point of disinviting the entire organization in June. Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has raised a fist during the anthem in the past but did not do so before Thursday’s game, said Wednesday that he wants players to protest in different ways, to “get this conversation to move away from the anthem.”
Redskins cornerback Josh Norman recently criticized Kaepernick for “ducking” the ongoing furor over the protests by largely remaining silent. Norman clarified his comments Thursday, saying he didn’t want to “tear down what he’s done,” adding of Kaepernick, “I want to praise him and what he has been doing this far and all the things he has continued to do.”