Nike just did it
In 2017, Colin Kaepernick, the San Fransisco 49ers quarterback who led the team to the Super Bowl XLVII, was blackballed from the NFL for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Kaepernick became a frequent target of Trump and the political right for kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to police violence. "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now," Trump said during a 2017 political rally, referring to Kaepernick and anyone else who took a knee.
But while NFL teams avoided Kaepernick, Nike embraced his political views. Nike plastered Kaepernick's face on massive billboards around the country with the slogan, "believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."
The campaign, in which the company aligned itself with the anti-Trump "resistance," was a runaway success. According to a 2018 report by the New York Times, Nike featured Kaepernick to gain "credibility… with the young, urban market it has long targeted."
It worked. An accompanying television ad featuring Kaepernick generated over 80 million views on social media, generating untold millions in publicity for Nike. A Wall Street analyst called the ads a "stroke of genius" that "spoke to Nike’s core consumers in a very Nike-esque provocative way that shows it understands them and the issues that matter to them." In an earnings call with investors, Nike bragged that the Kaepernick campaign produced "record engagement with the brand."
Nike has sought to extend its success by endorsing other politically progressive athletes like Megan Rapinoe:
Whether she’s taking a knee for racial justice or standing up for equal pay in women’s soccer, Megan has always leveraged her status to better the position of others. Now she’s spreading her message through a new collection with Nike called Victory Redefined.
But a recent political donation raises questions about whether Nike itself "believes in something" or is simply exploiting progressive politics to sell shoes and apparel.
On September 22, 2022, Nike donated $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), an organization currently seeking to install pro-Trump extremists in powerful positions across the country.
Over the last four years, Nike has donated a total of $125,000 to the group.
In Arizona, the RGA has committed to spend at least $11 million on ads supporting Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for Governor. Lake, a former local TV anchor, has made the lie that Trump won the 2020 election the centerpiece of her campaign. “You know how to know [the news is] fake?” Lake said in her first TV ad. “Because they won’t even cover the biggest story out there: the rigged election of 2020.” She has called for the jailing of journalists who report that Biden's win in Arizona was legitimate. (Nike previously said it would only support candidates committed to "upholding the principles of democracy.")
Lake also says that, as governor, she will enforce a total abortion ban passed in 1901, 11 years before Arizona became a state. In a June interview on Fox News, Lake said she supported closing all abortion clinics in Arizona and banning abortion pills. (After Roe was overturned, Nike said it would cover abortion-related travel for employees, describing it as an aspect of "quality healthcare.")
Lake has a real chance of being Arizona's next Governor. Recent polls show Lake with a slim lead over her opponent, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
The RGA is also spending millions to support Republican candidates for governor that have similarly extreme views, including Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Ron DeSantis in Florida. So why did Nike make a $25,000 donation to the RGA last month? The company did not respond to a request for comment.
The donation does align the company with founder and chairman emeritus Phil Knight. On September 22, 2022, the same day Nike donated $25,000 to the RGA, Knight donated $250,000. Knight put down Nike's Beaverton, Oregon headquarters as his address.
Knight also recently donated $1 million to support Christine Drazan, the anti-abortion Republican candidate for Governor in Oregon. Asked to explain his support for Drazan, Knight said he was "more conservative than Nike." Don't be so sure.
On October 8, Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) appeared at a Trump rally in Nevada and delivered a racist diatribe. Tuberville said that reparations, which would provide benefits to Black descendants of slaves, would only benefit criminals. "They want reparation because they think the people that do the crime are owed that," Tuberville said. "Bullshit!"
The NAACP, one of the nation's most prominent civil rights organizations, called Tuberville's comments "flat out racist, ignorant, and utterly sickening." For more than a week, Tuberville ignored all media inquiries. But finally, facing sustained criticism, Tuberville released a statement defending his remarks. Here is an excerpt:
The issue is crime, not race, but the liberal media is intent on helping Democrats remain in power. Crime has spiked nationwide under Democrats and their ‘Defund the Police’ policies, and I was pointing out the frustration many Americans share when I spoke last weekend.
You can read the full statement here.
One word you will not find in the statement is "reparations." Tuberville did not explain, acknowledge or apologize for linking reparations, a program that would benefit Black Americans who descended from slaves, with crime. Instead, he's blaming the "liberal media" and standing by his comments.
Corporate contributors to Tuberville's campaign and leadership PAC since 2021 include Airbus ($2500), Alabama Power ($15,000), BAE Systems ($3000), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama ($5000), Blue Origin ($6000), General Dynamics ($5000), Home Depot ($5000), Leidos ($4500), Lockheed Martin ($5000), Merck ($2500), Pfizer ($2500), PriceWaterhouseCoopers ($1000), Regions Financial ($4000), Sanofi ($1000), Tysons Food ($5000), and UPS ($10,000).