Ever since I played high school football, I love the sport. In spite of losing almost every match, mostly by a large margin. Why? Simple. Up in the North of Georgia, right at the border to Tennessee and North Carolina, you only get one kind of people. White people. Not exactly a good starting point if you want to be good at football.
The amount of hatred that some of my teammates displayed towards non-white opponents was really shocking – especially when you consider that they were the same people that eyed me very suspiciously when I admitted that I didn’t really believe in God. At least not the way they did.
Professional football, of course, is a different thing. There is plenty of solidarity in football teams, and being united as a team is the only thing that counts. And when Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee in front of a flag that he didn’t feel represented him, listening to an anthem that promised things that were not in line with the realities in the lives of African Americans in the USA today – I actually thought it was a respectful form of protest.
Obviously, close to half of America was having a different opinion, including that failure in the White House, but even more alarmingly the folks who were in charge of his team. He was fired, and none of the other teams had the guts to hire him – his career was over. Some say he wasn’t good enough anyway. But if you look at some of the truly miserable performances of some of the quarterbacks in American Football during last year’s season… you know… no, he wasn’t THAT bad.
Ever since, the White House and the NFL have done whatever they could to prevent the players from protesting in any way, shape or form during the rendition of the national anthem. And no matter how you look at it – these attempts are in clear violation of their freedom of speech and expression. But we don’t want to talk about how the US is slowly losing its touch with democracy.
At least not directly. What IS interesting is that one of my favorite theories about brand communication is starting to be proven right. That in a society that suffers from attacks on the rights of their citizens, brands need to take a stand. And they need to do this before it’s too late. Don’t expect any Russian, Turkish, or even Hungarian brands to try facing their merry bunch of Autocrats.
But in America? Absolutely. You will have to expect some of the biggest brands in the country to position themselves and their products on either one of those sides (which were created by politicians, not the brands themselves). And Nike is the perfect brand to do it. Their management was very clear about the reason for choosing Kaepernick as their testimonial. They clearly stated that they don’t want to have all of these “Make America Great Again” people as their customers, and that they can easily afford to lose them.
They’re not stupid, of course. They have done the math, and they knew that this wouldn’t hurt the brand, but rather lead to greater value, more sales, more folks buying their products. The only thing that is surprising is that the white house brat didn’t openly ask people to boycott the brand. He wasn’t as “soft” in the case of Harley-Davidson for example.
Some people feel awkwardness about a brand that takes a stand in what lots of people identify as a political issue. But first of all – brands stand for an endless number of things that have absolutely nothing to do with the product or its usage. Freedom of speech clearly shouldn’t be out of the ballpark. Secondly – it’s not political. It’s deeply human, and deeply moral. It’s the right thing to do.
And, of course there are brands and companies that benefit from being on the side of the President. He owns most of them.