Nike’s controversial advertisement sparks discussion at JU

Written by Domanic Hildebrand, Sydney Mckneelen, Bekah Ochs, Kayla Slichter, and Jenna Stahlman, Royal Scribe Staff

Photo from

The story behind the ad

Nike, one of the top shoe and athletic apparel companies in the world, known for its iconic slogan “Just Do It,” recently announced the face of its 30th-anniversary campaign. Nike picked Colin Kaepernick,  the controversial, former NFL quarterback, to be the iconic face of the new advertisement.

Kaepernick is known for inspiring players to kneel during pregame national anthem activities at football games. He began kneeling in protest of racial injustice back in 2016. This act of protest quickly became a popular movement among NFL players. This caused an uproar from a variety of Americans across the nation, all debating whether or not kneeling during the national anthem is considered disrespectful.

When the Kaepernick advertisement initially aired, Nike stock started to fall. However, according to Nike’s website, a few days later their stocks had regained all lost value and increased by four percent.

According to, political figures including President Donald Trump, have spoken out against the campaign and Nike’s decision to have Kaepernick as the face of their advertisement. Some of those politicians are now stepping back from their words, like Louisiana Mayor Ben Zahn who banned the purchase of Nike products in local facilities.

The Kaepernick advertisement has the phrase, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” This phrase and the likeness of the Nike advertisement has now become an internet “meme” sensation.

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The history behind Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign is rooted in the idea that they wanted to break their market scope of just athletes and widen the scope to everyone. According to, the campaign was successful when, after its 1988 launch, Nike’s sales increased by 1,000 percent. Nike officials credit the campaign with keeping the company financially afloat that year.

JU athletes see Nike campaign as business move

Some student-athletes at JU believe that the recent Nike campaign was a financial choice.

Riley Reinhardt, a JU tennis athlete, Journey Bennington, a JU frisbee team member, and Kandace Troxell, a JU volleyball athlete, share similar views on the recent Nike campaign. The student-athletes said that the recent signing with Kaepernick was a financial play.

Journey Bennington
“Most businesses need to take risks to make money and I think that is what Nike did,” Bennington said.

Similar to what Bennington stated, Reinhardt said, “Nike is a corporation, so they are going to do what every corporation does, and that is make money.”

“He [Kaepernick] is a provocative character and Nike has made more money because they chose Colin Kaepernick, because people are talking about it,” Reinhardt said. “It doesn’t really affect me because I understand that Nike is a business and they want to make money.”

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Kandace Troxell

Within the past year, Johnson University signed a six-year contract with Adidas. According to Ben fair, Assistant Athletic Director, the decision was made before the Nike campaign.

“We explored all of our options,” Fair said. “Adidas was going to give us a quality product at the best price.”

JU athletes propose alternative representative for Nike campaign

All three student-athletes advocated for a different icon to represent the Nike company. This does not change their views on the quality of the merchandise.

Both Reinhardt and Troxell suggested that Lebron James would be a strong representation for the tagline that Nike created with their campaign, “Just do it, even if it means sacrificing everything,”

“I don’t think that Nike had to pick some provocative athlete,” Reinhardt said. “I’m not a huge fan of Lebron James but what he has done in the community has been a great example of how athletes should give back and how athletes should set an example for how they want to lead their communities.”

Troxell agreed.

“He definitely cares about social justice and he is well-liked by most people…”

According to GiveMeSport, Lebron James, basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, is a strong example of what a sacrificial athlete should look like.

Reinhardt, Troxell and Bennington agreed that the campaign does not impact whether they will buy Nike products in the future.

Though some feel the financial play Nike made by choosing Kaepernick may not have been the best representation for a sacrificial athlete, the choice has brought an increase in publicity and sales.

While these student-athletes may not have agreed with the choice, the recent campaign has not phased them enough to alter their relationship with Nike.

JU athletes’ opinions on Kaepernick’s sacrifice

JU athletes had varying opinions on whether or not Kaepernick sacrificed everything when he decided to kneel in protest of social injustice on the football field.

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“In speaking out for what he believed in, he sacrificed what was his everything – which was his football career,” Trent Fleming, JU basketball player, said.

Others believe that he made the decision to take a stance on his own, so the repercussions are his to deal with.

“He chose to separate himself from the notions of the NFL,” Thomas Williams, JU baseball player, said.

Troxell believes that Kaepernick sacrificed his career. However, she said it is a far cry from military sacrifice.

“I think a lot of people will compare that to military sacrificing everything, which I think is a pretty stark contrast,” Troxell said.

Troxell said that she does believe Kaepernick sacrificed his career and reputation. “He was a really well known, really liked football player until he made the stance, and now he’s very much hated by a lot of people and he can’t play football ever again,” she said.

Troxell said that she believes Kaepernick did not intend to disrespect military, but that he only wanted to shed light on social injustice in the country. However, she said many others who are familiar with this controversy view it differently.

“I have a brother who is in the military, so for me it has kind of always been a struggle, because I understand where he’s coming from, but I also understand why these people are mad,” she said.

Troxell said she comes from a large military family, and her brother, Jake Troxell, has served in the Navy for a year and a half. She said because of this, she understands what sacrifice means to those who serve and their loved ones.

Reinhardt said that another face he believes would represent Nike’s sacrifice campaign well would be Pat Tillman. According to USA Today, others agree with this as well.

After the September 11 attacks, Tillman left his NFL career behind in 2002 to enlist in the United States Army as an Army Ranger, so that he could fight for his country. In 2004, Tillman was killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan.

Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman representing the Nike campaign in a mock ad (Photo from

JU athletes indifferent to sporting Nike gear

The impact on the athletes’ relationships with the company is minimal. The students who were interviewed for this story, and who purchased and wore Nike products before, said they are going to continue doing so without any thought over the politics of it.

Troxell said that since she believes Nike chose Kaepernick as the face of their campaign simply as a financial move, it does not necessarily make her want to purchase more Nike products.

“I don’t think it’s changed a lot, especially because I don’t think it’s a lot of a social justice move on their part,” Troxell said. “I think maybe if I felt that way I would like Nike more, but I just think that they did it from a financial standpoint.”

The Biblical perspective from JU student and Staff

Whether they agree with it or not, Kaepernick’s definition of sacrifice has caught the attention of fellow Christians.

Cal Kinman, a preaching and youth ministry major, defined sacrifice as “giving up one’s desires or aspirations for the sake of a greater cause.”

In Christianity, the ultimate sacrifice was Jesus dying on the cross. In comparison to this, Kinman said he believes that Kaepernick had more selfish intentions with his sacrifices.

Rafael Rodriguez, Professor of New Testament, agreed with Kinman, saying, the ad itself had selfish intentions behind it. “Nike cares less about Colin Kaepernick and more about you,” he said. “What Nike actually wants you to do is buy their products.”

On terms of biblical sacrifice, Rodriguez compares Jesus on the cross to the shoe company’s advertisement.

“Jesus on the cross — there is a picture of sacrifice where I can say, ‘that cost him something,’” he said. “Then I look at a shoe company using that same word [sacrifice], I’m going to get a bit cynical about that.”

“Buying shoes is different than sacrifice. Buying shoes is consumerism,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not a bad thing, but not a noble thing either.”

Heather Gorman, Associate Professor of New Testament, defined sacrifice as “giving up yourself or something that is yours, for the benefit of others.”

Gorman said she actually finds similarities between the actions of Kaepernick and what Jesus did for his people.

She said, “The idea of sacrificing your reputation for the good of others, especially the oppressed and those experiencing injustice, is very consistent with what we see in the Bible.”



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