Colin Kaepernick, in extreme close-up, stares out of Nike’s newest advertisement celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the brand’s iconic “Just Do It” campaign. The text, printed over Kaepernick’s determined expression, reads: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” And while the campaign has caused angry white men to cut swooshes off their clothes and burn their shoes in the name of patriotism, the ad might just be a boon for parents of all political stripes. Because what the Kaepernick ad provides dads is an opportunity to talk to children about the importance of standing up (or, actually, kneeling down) for one’s beliefs, even in the face of vocal opposition at the highest levels.
Make no mistake, Nike made a calculated business decision to stir up controversy by featuring Kaepernick. Brand executives knew full well that the campaign would enrage those who have been critical of the former quarterbacks’ silent protests of police brutality during the national anthem. Nike was also banking on the fact that supporters of Kaepernick would cheer the brand’s decision, and at the very least, the media attention would spur sales. But that does not make Kaepernick’s story, or Nike’s decision to surface it, any less important.
The fact is that Kaepernick was a successful starting quarterback prior to the public display of his convictions. Ever since his action, despite having once been a starter, he has been unable to find work, even as a backup. The man essentially burned down a career to fight against racial injustice, and that requires a lot of bravery.
Regardless of how a parent might view Kaepernick’s protest, there’s a great deal to be learned from the man about the courage to hold to one’s moral convictions. And isn’t that what parents want in the end? A child brave enough to stand up for what they feel is right despite the ridicule they might face? After all, that’s the only way we can hope to send kids to school who are allies for the kids who are bullied. It’s the only way we raise kids who turn away from peer pressure when that pressure leads to destructive ends.
Are there other people in history that parents can point to who’ve done the same? Absolutely. Consider Martin Luther King who gave up his life for his beliefs. Consider Gandhi’s hunger strikes for liberty. Consider the life of Jesus, if you happen to be religious. And yes, those are all incredible stories which children will likely (hopefully) hear at some point. But, sadly, those stories also lack the kind of contemporary relevance that cuts through the noise of modern media.
Obviously, Nike would be roundly criticized if it used an image of Martin Luther King in a Just Do It ad. And that critique would be completely justified. But Kaepernick’s relevance to the lifestyle sports brand and the controversy surrounding him makes the ad campaign a lively and interesting topic for kids. They will have almost certainly seen the news on Twitter or Facebook. They will likely have witnessed men destroying Nike goods in infantile fits of rage. And more than historical figures, that makes Kaepernick’s story a timely jumping off point for parents.
It all starts with a simple question: Is there something you believe in enough that you would be willing to lose your favorite thing in order to make a statement? Parents might be incredibly surprised by the answer to that question. And, importantly, the conversation that follows does not need to have anything to do with police brutality or race. It can simply be about holding fast to moral beliefs.
That’s an important conversation for parents to have with children, no matter what their political background might be. And the Nike ad is an incredible place to start if parents can resolve to just do it.