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Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

There does not seem to be anywhere or anything that is safe from controversy these days. Every time anyone opens their mouths, the social media lynch mob descends. Under such circumstances, most people and companies are desperately trying to find ways to stave off the digital lynch mob. As such, it is surprising when a company deliberately makes a choice that they know is going to be extremely controversial.

Nike recently launched their latest “Just Do It” campaign, and the athlete they have chosen to be the face of the campaign is about as controversial a choice as could be made. Nike picked none other than Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, and the man who started the trend of kneeling during the United States national anthem.

Kaepernick began kneeling to protest racial issues. Some people applauded him for bringing further attention to racial issues. Others were disgusted that Kaepernick said America “oppresses black people and people of color” and claimed that the multimillionaire had no idea what oppression meant, especially as he was silent as Coptic Christians and Yazidis were being slaughtered by the thousands in the Middle East, people who disagreed with the government routinely went “missing” in China and North Korea continued to starve and murder its citizens.

Kaepernick went on to become a lightning rod for an unexpected controversy. He was either a hero or a spoiled brat. There was little to no in-between. Ironically, his original concerns were eclipsed by questions of how people should act during the national anthem.

Kaepernick largely faded into the background over time even though debates over what constituted proper behavior during the Star Spangled Banner raged. Now, however, he is once again at the center of a firestorm due to Nike’s ad. The advertisement features Nike’s classic “Just Do It” motto and the statement, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Some people cite Nike’s history of using their “Just Do It” ads to advance causes such as women’s athletics and HIV awareness and claim that Nike is simply picking up a new cause. Others, however, are furious at the extra statement in the Nike ad. Kaepernick, they claim, has sacrificed nothing. He is a young, healthy, multimillionaire who is beloved by many. He still works and rakes in the money. In response, military and police families have taken to social media to talk about officers and veterans who sacrificed promising private careers, mental health and even their lives in the line of duty. That, they say, is what it means to sacrifice everything.

What effect the Nike ad will have on sales is still unclear. Some people argue that people should boycott the company. Others are seeking further support for the ad. One thing is clear, though. If Nike was hoping to get people talking about the ad, they succeeded. What that will mean in the long run is still up in the air.

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