By Vernon A. Williams
This is so much deeper than the relationship between a shoe manufacturer and an NFL quarterback.
We are living in an era in which Black parents feel duty-bound to warn children (especially boys) of the danger they face when they encounter law enforcement officers, as though they are preparing youth for a hike through the wilds of the jungle or to swim in shark-infested waters.
There is something inherently wrong with that picture. Written on the sides of every police squad car are the words “To Serve and Protect.” For Black and brown people, that is a grave misnomer…a foreign concept. To the contrary, citizens of color shift into survival mode when they have contact with cops.
The woeful list of unarmed victims of police brutality and lethal shootings validate their worst fear. Sadly, that list swells as oblivious citizens overindulge in a smorgasbord of politics dominating the news.
Meanwhile the Black and Latino body count continues to mount as accused police seldom receive indictments. In rare instances when they face charges, acquittal is a certainty if they use their get-out-of-jail-free card: “I feared for my life” – the magic words to summon their freedom genie.
If Black people are making idle threats when they declare “no justice…no peace,” then they forfeit the birthrights of unborn generations. Colin Kaepernick is a hero because there is nothing more sacred than righteous protest. From the fiery furnace and lion’s den of Biblical teachings to sports sidelines, urban streets and college campuses – protest is prerequisite for freedom. Frederick Douglass taught us that oppression can only be eliminated by “agitation…agitation…agitation.”
It is monumental when a giant of industry lends its voice to the anguish of societal underdogs. In this country, African Americans have perennially been ‘down by law’ with support from few outspoken, powerful pillars of society. Nike is the exception to the rule.
By featuring Colin Kaepernick in its 30th anniversary ad campaign, Nike lends legitimacy to a protest misrepresented, marginalized, ignored and hated by most. Nike not only boldly boasted its controversial decision but also announced plans for a line of products honoring Kaepernick, a former Super Bowl quarterback banned from the game because he knelt during the national anthem in protest of racism.
Here is why this development is a game changer for Black society.
Our boys need something to derail the current society’s degradation express; something to counter the sense of nothingness fermented in the recesses of their mind every time they are reminded how to acquiesce and play the game to survive. Finally, they can hear that they should not accept disrespect from police as a condition of life; that they should not be forced to buck-dance, bow, genuflect, scratch, grin and whine, “yessuh massah,” to quell confrontations.
This deal between Nike and Kaepernick is affirmation for young people that you can win by standing up and asserting your principles without compromise. This was a desperately needed message to Black and brown boys reaffirming that they are “somebody,” that their voices deserve to be heard, that what they think and feel matters, that they can make a difference and that they must forever resist being hapless, hopeless victims of hatred and intolerance.
In the wake of the Nike announcement, prices of shares of company stock the next day dipped 2 percent. The reaction may be a temporary glitch. The customers Nike could lose will be more than made up for by attracting new younger consumers who are looking to buy brands that stand behind political topics, said Jessica Ramirez, a retail analyst with Jane Hall & Associates.
Of course, there were many objections to the move. Over 30,000 people were tweeting with the hash tag #NikeBoycott the following morning. Some analysts said the boycott of Nike would not have a big impact.
“The alt-right calls for a Nike boycott will fail,” says Matt Powell, a senior adviser with market research firm NPD Group. He added, “Old angry white guys are not a core demographic for Nike.”
Finally, the message that will accompany Kaepernick as the face of the Nike ‘just do it’ campaign is profound and reaffirming our Black boys and girls. It says simply, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Too many Black and Latino American youths believe in nothing. Not even themselves. One reason is that they see so little evidence of the pay-off for a path of courage and principles. Unfortunately, they are growing up in a society in which the villains seem to be winning. The virtuous characters with principles seem beaten down or ostracized.
That likely is what they thought true about the ordeal of Colin Kaepernick; that he may not be forced to stand for the national anthem but there was no positive outcome of his righteous protest.