Just Burn It
Words by Henry Armfield
In a recent advertising campaign, Nike featured Colin Kaepernick’s face on banners and billboards throughout the USA, accompanied with the words;
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt”.
The imagery and inscription refer to Kaepernick’s work as an activist, which began when he infamously took a knee during the national anthem. A silent, nonviolent protest against police brutality, which disproportionately affects Black Americans.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” said Kaepernick in a post-match interview.
“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.”
Kaepernick is easily a candidate for most hated athlete in America, as conservatives see him as not only an image of the “‘far left wing’” ideology of not allowing authoritarian police to kill Black Americans in the street, but also the guy who supposedly politicised the NFL. The same NFL where when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, white supremacist leader Richard Spencer declared it a victory for the white race. The poster boy of the league Tom Brady keeps a MAGA hat in his locker. No NFL pundits are outraged by that though, because it doesn’t conflict with their audience.
Picture this. You are a white American conservative. It’s a sunny afternoon in Texas, you’ve already cracked a crisp bud light and you tune into ESPN. You had to work thirty hours overtime to afford your cable bill this month. It’s the not racist Washington Redskins versus the totally not racist New England Patriots. Tommy boy is tossing the pig skin perfectly, thank God he’s white, you’d have to find another team otherwise. Half time arrives, and there’s only been two concussions, tame. You can either watch the next half hour of advertising or run some errands. You let a small sigh out, concede that the grass has gotten bushy, and hoist yourself out of your chair to put your mowing shoes on.
That’s when it hits you.
Your Air Monarchs. Your NIKE Air Monarchs.
The premier lawn mowing silhouette. Ruined. You feel a hot rush. Blood, but mostly anger. NIKE, the all-American company, has betrayed YOU. Beaverton, Oregon. May as well be Stalingrad. You realise what the heat means. You must burn your Monarchs.
Dramatization aside, this is a real life thought process many Twitter pundits went through before either cutting their swooshes or burning their shoes.
If you were to construct a visual of an alt-right house based solely on their twitter media tab, the resultant image would be truly dystopian. A shrine like hat rack, draped in MAGA caps, some to wear out, others shrink wrapped for preservation.
A “classy” fedora, for formal occasions to own the libs. The yard is filthy, mostly due to the black smoke and ash that spews out of the faux leather of the freshly scorched Air Monarchs. In the kitchen there are sliced loyalty cards to Nordstrom’s (Discontinued Ivanka Trump’s clothing line). Eviscerated Starbucks members cards (Hired refugees). A Keurig coffee machine strewn with bullet holes (Pulled advertisements from Fox News).
The destruction of personal property is funny, especially when its filmed and posted by a sixteen-year-old republican who thinks his Ralph Lauren polo shirt is a personality trait. However, there is a bigger issue underlying the movement of destroying things when a company does something against your views. Activism is becoming corporatized.
Kaepernick didn’t need Nike to be relevant. His movement was legitimate, his actions held weight, but now Nike is reaping the benefits. Nike’s online sales increased 61% in the weeks after the campaign launch, despite conservative social media using their Nikes as kindling.
Kaepernick is still an unsigned athlete, who cannot participate professionally in a sport to which he dedicated his life. His court case against the NFL will likely not hold up in court, and he will probably retire as an athlete without playing another game. Unarmed people of colour are still being slain in the streets.
Political movements are becoming commodified to the detriment of their ideas. Nike’s marketing team will play into the politics of the majorities for the sake of sales. Had Kaepernick’s actions been received poorly by majority, this campaign would not exist.
There will probably be an alternative campaign by another athletic competitor. An Under Armor #StandForTheFlag campaign would make sense, as the swoosh cutters realise they still need to run.
The future of American activism will continue to be unsuccessful and watered down if corporate profiteering is allowed on the path to social justice. Corporations will love it if you print your slogans on their T-Shirts and tread the campaign trail in their shoes.