Buying a Conscience

There is little doubt that the marketing team at Nike was giddy when they came up with the new advertising campaign, which would achieve two objectives with one ad.

Objective #1: Be controversial. Nothing generates buzz, the essence of advertising, quite like controversy. In the blink of an eye, they have garnered more exposure from the resulting news coverage than from actual ad placement. By that score, the marketers certainly earned their paychecks.  

Objective #2: Find a way to help repair  the damage done to their image by decades of bad publicity and lawsuits. The public is right to question the company’s ethics, considering the 800,000 people making shoes in sweatshops across Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, South Africa, and dozens of other countries, where the pay is as low as $32 per month. Nike will use its new ad as a distraction from the horrid labor conditions, in the same way that Harvey Weinstein used his donations to political campaigns that strongly advocated for women's rights as a moral equalizer for the more than 80 sexual misconduct allegations that have been made against him. Moreover, they will be able to distract the public with this red herring of an ad because of the incredible uproar about it--and gloss over the deplorable conditions of their workers. And what better way than to trot out Colin Kaepernick, a man who has “sacrificed everything” but whom Nike pays generously, courtesy of those exploited in sweatshops.

Regarding the ad’s implication that Kaepernick sacrificed a thriving career as a quarterback, there seems to be some revisionist history going on here. In his last two seasons, Kaepernick’s record was 3-16, with his best days clearly behind him. I attended one of his most recent games, at Levi’s Stadium against the New England Patriots, and it was difficult to see how he was worth his salary. He made the decision to opt out and leave the San Francisco 49ers, just as he chose to turn down several million dollars offered by the Denver Broncos a few months before he started kneeling for the national anthem. But if he wants to file a lawsuit anyway, since he feels victimized because no team wants him, it is certainly his right, just as it is his right to kneel for the anthem.

However, there is no denying the fact that even if he did lose a career due to his actions, the ad is mendacious because he simply did not sacrifice everything. Whether or not you believe kneeling for the flag is disrespectful to those who have died for the flag, the ad itself, with its insinuation of enormous sacrifice, is undeniably impudent. The notion Nike is peddling in the ad that  Kaepernick has sacrificed everything, which tends to mock those who actually have, is beyond ridiculous.

To Mr. Kaepernick, I would like to suggest that you use your abundance of free time, and your profound wealth, to visit one of the 542 Nike factories in 42 countries. Say hello to the people who are abused in sweatshops every day, which helps to fund your latest probably multi-million dollar contract while you keep playing victim and pretending to care so much about oppressed people. Just Do It.