Maybe it’s not a stretch to suggest that Nike and the NFL deserve each other.
Each is a spectacularly wealthy corporate giant built on fantasy.
Nike sells the illusion that you can be like Mike (or Rory, or Cristiano) if you buy the right sneaker, golf shoe or soccer boot.
The NFL sells trucks, beer and insurance — the illusion being that the first two will make customers manly, and the third will render them secure from all harm.
The histories of the two entities are similarly problematic.
Nike has employed children in sweatshops. From time to time, the company has endeavored to demonstrate that the people who build their products would be worse off if they didn’t have those jobs. Perhaps some of them would be. That doesn’t alter the fact that they’re exploited. From time to time Nike has protested that conditions in the worst of the factories where Air Jordans and various other overpriced sneakers made are the responsibility of the contractors who supply the labor. That’s a little like a government engaged in torture arguing that it only hired the guys who pulled out the finger nails.
For years the NFL denied that there was any connection between the head injuries suffered by their employees and the fact that the post-retirement lives of those employees were characterized by chronic pain, confusion, broken relationships, and, in some spectacularly hideous circumstances, suicide. Actually, the League went one better than that. The NFL employed doctors to make the case for safe brain damage.
Only recently has the League acknowledged the extraordinary cost many of these men have paid and continue paying for the opportunity to call themselves NFL players. Even now, the bulk of the money the League has devoted to research, allegedly designed to make the game safer, is going to the search for a better helmet, no matter that most of the research conducted by anybody who isn’t connected to the NFL suggests that no helmet is going to ameliorate the damage that has rendered so many players incapable of leading anything like a normal life after retiring from the game.
So it is perhaps a grand irony that these two behemoths find themselves on opposite sides in the ongoing matter of Colin Kaepernick.
The NFL, meaning Commissioner Roger Goodell and the men who own the teams, regard Kaepernick as a trouble-making threat to their bottom line. They seem to think if they can shut his mouth and shut him out of their business, that the business will one day boom again as it boomed before Colin Kaepernick took advantage of his celebrity as an NFL player to quietly protest the murder of black citizens in the street, sometimes by the very people charged with protecting their safety and their rights.
Nike’s decision to provide Kaepernick with a platform and embrace the courage of his stand might at first seem weird. What could have possessed the hugely profitable dream merchant that is Nike to spit in the eye of one of its largest customers?
Trump’s position is likewise an invitation to a bar fight for a corporation determined to hold on to its market share as the president’s ratings slip.
Could the answer be President Trump? This is a man who has said it would be wonderful indeed if the NFL owners fired all “the sons of bitches” who’ve taken a knee or otherwise encouraged the recognition that the U.S. is a nation where poisonous racism diminishes and often ends the lives of people whose “crimes” are being black and poor. It’s a position that has to have delighted at least the most loathsome of the men who own the teams, some of whom are on record as being Trump’s deep-pocketed pals. Trump’s position is likewise an invitation to a bar fight for a corporation determined to hold on to its market share as the president’s ratings slip. With a reputation for backing individual stars capable of grace under pressure, it wasn’t much of a leap for Nike to come out against a fellow who’s never come within a hundred yards of grace.
Granted, this is speculation, for who can know what goes on in either boardroom? But could it be that the mad, bellowing jingoism of a president bound to willfully misrepresent legitimate, non-violent protest for his own gain has been responsible for driving a wedge between one highly suspect, exploitative corporate entity and another?
Whatever the genesis of the split, Nike and Kaepernick vs. the NFL and Donald Trump has to be more interesting than anything that’ll appear on the football schedule before November.