In the grand American tradition of destroying perfectly good merchandise in protest, morons are out in force yet again, setting their expensive sneakers on fire to own the libs.
This, obviously, is about football. Today, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported that controversial NFL player and anti-racist activist Colin Kaepernick will be the face of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign’s 30th anniversary. Conservative dumbasses online reacted exactly as everyone expected.
Nike’s campaign features a black and white photo of Kaepernick’s face superimposed with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Unsurprisingly, conservatives online took objection to this sentiment. Ben Shapiro tweeted that Kaepernick hasn’t sacrificed anything, unlike Muhammad Ali, an anti-racist, anti-imperialist who would have been a HUGE Shapiro fan were he alive today.
Let’s make something clear: Nike, the world’s most valuable athletic apparel company, is worth $28 billion. That’s more than the GDP of many entire nations. They don’t do anything without considering its impact on their bottom line. In one way, that makes their endorsement of Kaepernick as a spokesperson encouraging. Given the opposing cultural forces of white nationalism and anti-racism, Nike has chosen the latter. But like many corporations embrace of the LGBT community, this has less to do with some moral purity on the part of corporations than practical business sense. Nike’s quarterly report in March showed “continued sales decline in North America offset by major growth elsewhere.” It’s hard to imagine many people outside the U.S. give much of a shit about an American football player kneeling during the American national anthem.
Within the U.S., this is a PR move like any other, calculated to appeal to certain groups while enraging others, creating cascades of free advertising. For every moron who cuts the logo off his tube socks, another almost equally ridiculous person will purchase a new pair in support of free speech. Conservatives might even opt to buy more Nike products themselves in some sort of 12th-dimensional chess move, as they did in their brilliant 2016 Starbucks protests.
This is a good time to remember that Nike, as a force in the world, is still bad. One of the reasons for their declining sales this year was the resignation of president Trevor Edwards after the company became aware of “conduct inconsistent with Nike’s principles” from the executive (but don’t worry, he still got millions in severance). Those alleged principles are questionable at best There are reports as recent as 2015 of employees at Nike’s Vietnamese factories collapsing due to heat and exhaustion, and of the company pulling out of unionized factories in favor of cheaper, non-unionized labor. Just last year, activists organized a day of protests against Nike’s continuing use of sweatshop labor. And though they tout their environmentalist cred, Nike still uses chemicals in its products that are hazardous even to customers. Conservatives, a word of advice: if you must burn your Nike gear, make sure to do so in a well ventilated area.
But the larger point here is that moves like Nike’s embrace of Kaepernick are faux-politics at best. Whether it’s Chick-fil-A wooing homophobic customers or Starbucks racial reeducation classes, corporations true motivation is always maximizing profit, no matter how hard they protest otherwise. Though their choices may reflect larger societal changes in opinion, they don’t lead in changing those opinions. Instead, they follow after the hard work of activists who are often demonized by liberals and conservatives alike.
Twitter ingrates breathing toxic sneaker fumes in rage is merely an amusing sideshow in Nike’s master plan, as are the liberals who will proudly sport Nike in defiance. Consumer outrage comes and goes, but these companies still rake in the money, sipping billion dollar tea as we fight about their moral purity.