Colin Kaepernick should not be in the news. According to most advanced metrics, he is an above-average quarterback, who should be employed by an NFL team wanting to make a serious attempt at winning the Super Bowl. Instead, he has been stonewalled by the league, not having been offered a new contract due to his kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner.
For many, Kaepernick has become a figure of rebellion throughout the United States, best personified by his recent feature in a Nike advert, which spread virally across the internet this September. The quarterback’s appearance even prompted frivolous footage of people burning their trainers and cutting their Swooshes out of their shorts. This negative outburst was short-lived, as most customers were unfazed; Nike stock has been up ever since the release of the advertisement and sales have increased by over 30%.
Trump himself replied to the ad, saying that Kaepernick’s message was terrible, and should have never been sent out in the first place. Indeed, disdain for the ad has a distinctly partisan look to it – FOX News host Tucker Carlson called it an attack on the country. On the other side of the political debate, critics of the current White House administration have defended Nike’s actions en masse. John Brennan, Obama’s Director of the CIA, publicly praised the ad, and he was not the only person in the Democratic camp to do so.
Thus, the last fortnight’s events seem to fit in the predominant partisan routine to which everyone by now has become accustomed. However, surely the massive surge in sales in Nike (their share price hit its all-time apex this week) indicates a major change could be on the way? The timing of the advert coincides well with a potential turning point: the upcoming American midterm elections, and it seems as if Nike, and the Democrats, are trying to take advantage of increased political fervor.
Progressivism in the United States is yearning for a big victory to seriously curb Trump’s harmful plans. Republican priorities such as a firmly conservative Supreme Court would become much harder to enact under Democratic control of the Senate and House of Representatives. To that end, the Democrats are eyeing unlikely Senatorial victories in Texas and Arizona to bolster their chances. It is undeniable that their success in those traditionally Republican states depends heavily on the minority vote, which has been steadily rising in their favor.
Nike too has set itself towards minorities, as its advert prominently features athletes such as Kaepernick, LeBron James, Serena Williams and Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Muslim American fencer, who won bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Many of these athletes have been outspoken in recent years regarding Trump’s lethargy: James has even taken action himself by opening a revolutionary public school in Ohio. Muhammad has also been vocal in her criticism, as she wrote an article in Time magazine chastising Trump’s views on Islam. The high publicity attached to these actions show that contemporary media personalities have taken up a more important role than ever.
The Nike advertisement reveals something else about another demographic group as well. The Oregon-based company has taken it upon itself to become even more dominant than it already is in the 18-29 year old urban demographic. It recently disclosed that by 2020 80% of the company’s projected growth would stem from just twelve cities. Interestingly, it is these people who have also largely sided with Kaepernick and against Trump according to polling data. Only 28% of city slickers believe that Trump shares their values.
Despite their huge presence in big cities, and in Nike’s success, the young demographic remains politically somewhat toothless. Whilst they are a powerful and soon-to-be prosperous group, their influence wanes once one reaches the city limits of a big city. It remains to be seen if the rural heartland will vote for the Democrats as well. This bodes well for Nike, who clearly don’t need geographic spreading to maximize sales, yet the expected Democratic ‘Blue Wave’ may not reach rural America.
Perhaps this is why Kaepernick, James, and others decided to increasingly voice their displeasure at the current status quo. Having been rejected by his own institution, which was supposed to provide for his livelihood, Kaepernick embodies a powerful metaphor for what is also applicable to many other non-white Americans. Many fear that voter ID laws could prevent many African-American citizens from voting, disenfranchising them in the process. The Democrats seem to be intent on taking advantage of this message, using Kaepernick’s publicity to their own end, with high profile candidates like Beto O’Rourke in Texas resolutely standing behind Kaepernick’s raising of awareness. Perhaps this new wave of young, minority ‘Nike Democrats’ can rebuke the Republicans across the country in key districts.
Yet it remains to be seen if the Nike Democrats can pull off the big wins that they so desire. Progressivism needs a big victory to curb Trump’s power, and the Democrats are facing an uphill battle in the Senate elections. They need to hold on to 25 seats, many in states that Trump won convincingly, and also manage to snatch a few from entrenched Republican Senators. The Kaepernick ad’s tagline ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’, offers a strong reminder to them about what is at stake.