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Criticism of Nike over Kaepernick ad prompts some to buy its gear

‘People of color … need to support those who keep these issues in the forefront’

A negative backlash roared through social media when Nike debuted its ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as part of the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” ad campaign. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were peppered with tweets and photos of Nike customers destroying their gear. President Donald Trump weighed in too. But many in the black community were inspired to buy Nike clothing and sneakers and display their new purchases online.

“Colin Kaepernick wasn’t really in the news when this ad came up. For Nike to reach down and make this ad, I think it’s how important they felt this issue was,” said Clem Richardson, 64, of Brooklyn, New York. He spent about $58 on a “sports blouse for my wife and a T-shirt for myself.”

“Of course, Nike knows that a large portion of its clientele are people of color, particularly African-American people. But still, you know how reluctant corporations are to attract negative publicity,” he said. “They knew in Donald Trump’s media-controlled America, they had to anticipate the backlash, and they did it anyway.

“As people of color, we need to keep these issues in the forefront. And we need to support those people who keep these issues in the forefront.”

The ad shows a close-up photo of Kaepernick with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Kaepernick does a voice-over for Nike’s two-minute commercial, “Dream Crazy,” which ran during the first timeout in the third quarter of the NFL’s season opener on Sept. 6. The commercial shows athletes “overcoming adversity to chase their dreams,” with Kaepernick staring at a U.S. flag, and ends with him saying, “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy, ask if they’re crazy enough.”

The initial criticism online extended an ongoing debate over Kaepernick, who as a San Francisco 49er took a knee during the playing of the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season to protest the killing of unarmed black men by police. Trump and others say that his protest disrespected the military, the country and the U.S. flag. Kaepernick supporters say the protest had nothing to do with the military and that the criticism ignores the issues that Kaepernick was trying to highlight.

Cheryl Green, 61, of Atlanta, saw the backlash on social media and said a cousin gave her the idea to buy something. She now has her first pair of Nike sneakers and plans to buy a T-shirt for her niece. Green also surprised a childhood friend with a pair of sneakers. She estimated that she has spent $200 on Nike gear and said she planned to buy more.

“I love the ad. I think the message is strong,” Green said. “People complain on social media. At some point, all of us have to decide if we are going to put actions behind our words. That’s kind of one of the reasons I bought the shoes. In the scheme of things, this isn’t a blip on Nike’s radar.”

She said she wants to help spread Kaepernick’s message and reach out to “people who are really adamantly opposed to what [Kaepernick] stands for.” She wants to “get them to consider the impact to me, with black family … to worry about them every single day that they could have an encounter with a policeman that could end with their death … to empathize with what I go through every single day.”

If she changes one person’s mind, Green said, “then to me it would have been worth my while.”

Despite the online furor, Nike’s sales and stock price skyrocketed. Newly minted Los Angeles Laker LeBron James also tweeted his support.

Nike didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Karin Berry is a general editor for The Undefeated. She is an avid reader of crime fiction and a genealogy addict.