Colin Kaepernick Needs No Words to Speak Volumes
It’s been almost one week since Nike unveiled its latest “Just Do It”campaign featuring one of the most polarizing athletic figures in modern sports history, Colin Kaepernick.
At a glance, the campaign appears simple with a black and white photo of the quarterback’s face. But it’s the nine words etched across the photo that have sparked mass controversy and intensified an already heated national debate about American patriotism and police brutality against black and brown people.
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” it says.
As with everything that’s had to do with Colin Kaepernick over the last two years, reaction to the campaign was swift and divided. Many loved it. In just four days the ad, tweeted from Kaepernick’s Twitter account, has amassed over 1 million retweets and likes. But support for the former-football-player-turned-activist was quickly overshadowed by intense backlash, with many people taking issue with Nike’s endorsement of Kaepernick. #NikeBoycott quickly began trending on Twitter, with some even taking to the platform to post videos of themselves destroying their Nike products. Meanwhile, on Wall Street, the company’s stock dropped by almost three per cent.
As it often goes, through it all there was one voice notably absent from the debate: Colin Kaepernick’s.
Since the end of the 2016 NFL season—Kaepernick’s last year as a signed player with the league—the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has remained publicly silent about his ongoing protest of police brutality against black people and other people of colour in the U.S. It’s in contrast to just two years ago when, as an active quarterback, he did in fact speak to media.
With so many divisive opinions and views surrounding his protest, silence is the most powerful tool Kaepernick can use. Arguably, it’s also the most effective means of controlling a narrative that within public conversations has often been spun into something else. Despite Kaepernick’s maintenance that his protest is against racial injustice, many people have taken issue with his decision to kneel during the U.S. national anthem, calling it unpatriotic and disrespectful to the American flag. Perhaps the loudest critic has been Donald Trump; the U.S. president has repeatedly expressed his disapproval, often in the strongest terms. (Notably, in 2017 he told his supporters at a rally that NFL owners should tell protesters, “Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now.”)
Not shockingly, Kaepernick gave no response to the president.
As part of its ad campaign, Nike released a two-minute TV commercial narrated by Colin Kaepernick. On Nike’s YouTube channel, the video has racked up almost 15 million views in just two days.
Since 2016, there have been few times that Kaepernick has spoken publicly but when he has, he’s had much to say. Last year, he was recognized as Amnesty International’s 2018 Ambassador of Conscience, an award previously given to Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. In his acceptance speech, which lasted just over seven minutes, he addressed the controversy of kneeling during the national anthem, reiterating that his protest was based “in love.” He also made clear that he has no intention of backing down. That same year, Kaepernick was named GQ’s 2017 Citizen of the Year. Although he declined to be interviewed, he collaborated with the publication in an effort to “reclaim the narrative of his protest.”
Ironically, Kaepernick’s silence has managed to ring louder than any public conversation about his decision to take a knee, and this ongoing silence is far from happenstantial. Rather, it’s deliberate and strategic. Though his voice is absent from public debate and conversations, Kaepernick himself is not. Through it all, he’s managed to remain at the forefront of the conversation, reminding both his supporters and critics that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The 2018 NFL season is already underway and to the league’s dismay, Kaepernick continues to dominate the conversation. In August, the NFL’s request to dismiss his complaint, which alleges that the league and team owners colluded against him and prevented him from getting signed, was denied, allowing the case to move forward. The official arbitrator’s statement, which came as a significant blow to the NFL’s attempts to put an end to the Kaepernick saga, was tweeted by the quarterback’s lawyer.
From Kaepernick however, there was only silence. The contentious quarterback didn’t need to say anything. As always, there was a plan in motion: Nike’s two-minute campaign commercial, narrated by and celebrating Kaepernick, was about to air for the first time during the NFL season opener.
Make no mistake. Colin Kaepernick is in control.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.