The Internet was already ablaze with hot takes, opinions and footage of people setting fire to their Nike attire Tuesday when the mayor of a Maryland town stepped into the chaos.
Jeannine James, mayor of La Plata, Md., claims she didn’t mean to stoke controversy when she posted a Facebook status on her personal page condemning the company’s ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.
“Nike selected Colin Kaepernick as the new face of the company’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign,” she wrote. “How disappointing. #BoycottNike.”
The reaction was swift and intense — hundreds of comments, arguments and memes filled her social media feed. Many accused James of creating division among her constituents and failing to support all of La Plata’s residents.
James took the original post down the next day. In its place, she offered a bizarre explanation: It had all been a social experiment.
“I want to thank everyone for participating in this lively social experiment that was posted to my personal page,” James wrote, referencing a communications class she teaches at the College of Southern Maryland. “I wanted to keep this post up for 24 hours but it was getting out of hand. This post is part of an assignment for one of my college communication classes to show how a message on social media can go viral.”
Not everyone believed her.
The post is no longer visible on her Facebook page. Her official mayoral page has been taken down.
She did not return a call from The Washington Post, but in an interview with a local TV station, James said she was “certainly not speaking as the mayor.”
“This was a risk, and it was a calculated risk,” she told Fox 5. “People are angry right now. They’re angry about life.”
They’re also angry at her.
In comments beneath a photo of the mayor and her family from a year ago, constituents have reacted to her statement. Some called for her resignation. Others wanted a boycott of La Plata businesses. A few posted images of previous social media activity that appeared in line with the mayor’s original sentiment.
In a Facebook group called Charles County Matters, some turned the tables, creating mock ads featuring James in the style of Nike.
The school where James works said it doesn’t support her execution of the alleged social experiment.
“College assignments are meant to encourage analytical thought and informed dialogue, however we expect that people engaged in expressive activities will demonstrate civility or respect,” the College of Southern Maryland wrote in a statement. “We do not condone negative characterizations about specific people nor do we condone comments that suggest bias or discrimination.”
In her televised interview, James said her post was meant to illustrate a maxim she often shares with her class: “Say it, forget it; write it, regret it,” the mayor recited.
When pressed whether she regretted putting that lesson into print now that it had, indeed, gone viral in her own community, James didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely not,” she said.