Few subjects have been more divisive, and few public figures have been more polarizing over the past few years than the NFL’s national anthem protest issue and Colin Kaepernick.
On Monday, Sept. 3, Nike announced that in honor of the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” campaign, the cover boy would be Kaepernick. Kaepernick is the much-maligned former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers who was ostracized by the NFL for his decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest social injustice. Nike unveiled their new campaign which was a tightly cropped picture of Kaepernick’s face with the phrase “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” written over it. Despite Nike being the official apparel of the NFL, Kaepernick is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the NFL and its owners. He claims the league and its high ranking officials have colluded against him to keep him out of the league.
This new campaign has been met with everything from indifference to passionate, mixed reactions. Some who were upset with the company’s decision even went as far to cut the Nike logo out of their apparel and burn their shoes to show their displeasure. The Collegiate reached out to Grand Rapids Community College students for their reactions to gauge the temperature on campus.
Gil Gridiron, 18, of Grand Rapids (not pictured) said he didn’t really care one way or the other.
“Honestly, when I saw it, I just kept swiping,” Gridiron said. ”I don’t think I’d tear up gear though if I disagreed.”
Others on campus agreed that ruining their clothes and shoes wasn’t useful even if they disagreed. Luke Gellette, 19, of Grand Rapids wasn’t a fan of the new ad and suggested a different cover athlete for the campaign.
“I didn’t like (the Nike campaign) that much,” Gellette said. “I think it’s an overreaction to cut your clothes up but if someone believes in something, they should just go after it. Personally, I think Pat Tillman should have been on the cover.”
Tillman, who was a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, famously retired from the NFL after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 to join the military and fight in the War on Terror. Tillman was killed by friendly fire on the battlefield in 2004. Nike could’ve picked a guy like Tillman, but roughly 14 years later, there may be a large majority of the college students who are unaware of Tillman’s story. Likewise, The Collegiate encountered multiple people who had never heard of Colin Kaepernick.
Rodney Marshall, 30, of Battle Creek had heard of him though, and he appreciated the courage of Kaepernick’s convictions and recognized the message that Kaepernick is trying to share.
“His situation is different from everyone else’s,” Marshall said. “Obviously he’s been boycotted from the league and he believes in what he stands for as far as equality, his culture and everything he’s trying to do.”
Marshall said Kaepernick is believing in what he stands for and explained what it means to him to believe in something in 2018.
“I’m an old school millenial, so when I believe in something…it’s more my moral view on things,” Marshall said. “In today’s day and age, everything is twisted up and misconstrued and misleading, but you know it really goes back on your morals and what you’ve been taught growing up so that’s what I believe in…you want to believe in your morals.”
Mia Jordan, 19, of Grand Rapids liked the new campaign from Nike and appreciated them allowing a message like this to reach millions.
“I actually thought (the Nike campaign) was great,” Jordan said. “Nike gave him a chance and gave him a big platform to get his message out there. I feel like if you believe in something, then you should believe in it all the way and stand your ground even if it means you lose opportunities for things.”
One student who didn’t want to be named said she didn’t care how divisive an ad might be, all that matters is whether or not it’s a good product.
“Personally, I don’t think it really makes a difference. If I like something, I’ll just buy it.”
Other students however, were not as cavalier about Nike’s decision to use Kaepernick as its cover athlete. Eli Littlejohn, 20, of Grand Rapids voiced his anger on the situation.
“I was kind of pissed off that he’s the guy for that,” Littlejohn said. “I don’t really respect the man for certain reasons.” Littlejohn added that he would rather have seen Mark Wahlberg in the ad instead of Kaepernick.
Audrey Angstman, 18, of Rockford was unaware of the new ad campaign Nike was running. When showed the ad however, she was on board with Nike’s decision.
“(Kaepernick) did something that he believes is right,” Angstman said. “That’s what I feel like brands like (Nike) try to promote is doing what you think is right. To believe in something might mean sacrificing something. Believe in it, do it. Literally ‘Just do it.’”
Collegiate reporters Matt Scheidel and Jack Hervela contributed to this story.
Photos of GRCC students courtesy of Matt Scheidel.
This story was update on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 9:40 a.m. to add Colin Kaepernick’s former team and information about his lawsuit against the NFL.