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THE INC. LIFE

Nike Hired Colin Kaepernick and Thumbed Its Nose at the NFL in Astute PR and Branding

Taking a stand may not be comfortable, but sometimes you have to. And sometimes it’s good PR.

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BY Erik Sherman - 04 Sep 2018

Nike Hired Colin Kaepernick and Thumbed Its Nose at the NFL in Astute PR and Branding

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick has just appeared as the face of a new Nike promotion. After two years of controversy over his stand, or rather, sit, on the national anthem and social justice, the move will anger many football fans and NFL management and owners. But the choice is smart and right.

Getting involved in controversy and politics -- because Kaepernick has become a political figure -- is tricky for a business. It can be ridiculous, contentious, or clever.

Just call Nike's move smart. Here's a tweet from Kaepernick showing the first ad.

Two years ago, Kaepernick jumped headlong into controversy when the San Francisco 49ers quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said at the time. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

It essentially cost him his career, as NFL owners iced him out over an issue that angered many football fans who wanted him to keep quite and go along. But Nike, which had signed him to an endorsement deal initially in 2011, has renewed the contract and putting Kaepernick out front,, even as it continues to have an apparel deal with the league through 2028, according to a New York Times story.

Some football fans are angry and show it in some ... sorry ... pretty silly ways.

Even if some people take offense, football can't walk away from Nike contractually, even though Nike has made some psychological and emotional distance to essentially associate itself with an important social issue. That's critical given the blowups it as seen of late, including:

Working with Kaepernick lets the company shift its own controversy to an area where it can seem like a principled winner to many. It's very slick PR in action and good for the brand. Is an of this part of a deeper conviction? Impossible to say.

But as a pure PR play, it is very clever. It also works because of the NFL's own actions. In a move of solidarity, no team has signed Kaepernick. He's technically not a league employee at the moment, which means Nike isn't interfering with its partner's business. NFL executives and owners paved the way for Nike to take this route -- and come out with a new Colin Kaepernick T-shirt and shoe.

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