Nike and Kaepernick

Katherine Miller riffs on Nike and its Kaepernick campaign:

Nike is the capitalist god of destruction.

Their omnipresence subsumes, like the above, and co-opts everything from John Lennon to racial justice campaigns. Nike is so big and vast — 25 pairs of shoes per second sold — that the brand undercuts all other considerations. If you go find a group of teens on the street right now, they’re probably wearing one of only a few sneaker brands: the old-school, black-and-white Vans; white Adidas Superstars; Converse (owned by Nike); throwback Jordans (owned by Nike); or black Nikes with the white swoosh. It’s like breathing capitalism. The only question that really matters, and the only one that will tell us something about Nike, the NFL, and Trump is simple: Will Nike hold?

Because, traditionally, Nike works best when the vibe is all-encompassing domination. The colors are usually the same (stark black and white in matte, neon oranges and yellows, cool blues and grays), and the messaging is usually built around the idea of true exceptionalism, emerging from pain. …

The early ’90s Charles Barkley “I Am Not a Role Model” campaign carries that intensity. “I am paid to wreak havoc on a basketball court,” Barkley says, directly to the camera, in black and white, the aesthetic predecessor to Nike’s latest campaign. …

Nike has unveiled an ad campaign with the league’s essential iconoclast. And if the Kaepernick ad doesn’t exactly fit the singular athletic greatness aspect, it does fit within the singular, absolutist, carved-from-salt message that Nike has been pushing for decades.

This is why the ad is so striking, and eclipses all the normal considerations: We intuitively know that Nike never, ever, ever backs down. They are so corporate and so vast that every decision they make feels final. So, when you consider that understanding of Nike, isn’t this the firmest sign of NFL entering into decay and decline there’s ever been? When their own uniform maker has launched a marquee campaign with the player suing the NFL?

Brilliant of Nike to embrace Kaepernick in this way; the reactions so far are exactly what you’d want if you were Nike corporate. Yes, there’s Nike’s opportunism here, and there’s an amorality in its ignoring social concerns over its manufacturing processes, but to whatever extent that the “Nike v. NFL” fight is between two titanic symbols of American culture, it’s likely both will emerge better for it.

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