Brush Back from Blackballed NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s NIKE Endorsement Deal

Written by: Mike Lukas
Updated January 27, 2023
19 min read

It’s all over the internet – Nike has given former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick a multi-million dollar endorsement deal as part of its most recent ‘Just Do It’ ad campaign and people around the world have responded in a lot of, well, interesting ways.

Some folks have been so outraged they’ve destroyed their own Nike property and others have vowed a total boycott of Nike’s products. Many people, however, have shown their love and support of the former professional football player.

Kaepernick is a controversial man with passionate convictions whom the NFL seemingly blackballed from making a living playing his sport because of his respectful protest of social injustice.

On one side of the fence are those who believe Kaepernick is a disrespecting America’s flag and military. On the other side are those who believe what he’s doing, kneeling in protest, is exactly what America and its fighting forces are all about.

There are a lot of questions regarding this news story, so we’ve decided to do our best to objectively answer as many of them as we can. Our hope is that with good information, readers can make up their own mind about this American football player and decide where they stand regarding this incredibly divisive news story.

VIDEO: NIKE Colin Kaepernick Ad: The Brush Back

Who is Colin Kaepernick?

Colin Kaepernick is a 30-year-old mixed-race American athlete born in Milwaukee, WI who played college football at the University of Nevada in Reno and professional ball in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers for six seasons between 2011 and 2016.

Kaepernick, who started his professional career as a backup to Alex Smith, became a starter in the middle of the 2012 season and led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. The 49ers barely lost that game to the Baltimore Ravens 31-34, despite Kaepernick throwing for a touchdown and running for another.

The next season as a starter, Kaepernick led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game, but struggled for the following three seasons, eventually losing and winning back his starting job.

In 2016, he began doing something on the sidelines that was at first ignored but then over time made him a new story that the whole world was talking about and taking a side over.

Why has Colin Kaepernick been in the news for the last two years?

It started in August of 2016, about a month after police shot and killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. During the pre-game singing of the national anthem, Kaepernick sat on the bench instead of standing with his teammates.


He was protesting what he referred to as the police brutality and the systemic inequality faced by people of color in the United States.

His direct quote to was this:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

And there are statistics that seem to back up his claim.

In 2016, black people made up only 13% of the population but also:

  • They made up nearly 63% of unarmed people killed by police officers.
  • Black people were nearly three times more likely to be arrested for illicit drugs.
  • People of color not only make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population, but also are more likely to serve longer sentences for the same crimes as their white counterparts.

And since 70% of the players in the NFL are black males, those unbalanced (and many would argue unjust) numbers hit home in the world of professional football.

Why are so many people angry with Kaepernick?

The primary confusion in this ongoing debate is over what Kaepernick is actually protesting.

His antagonists, including the U.S. President, accuse him of protesting the American flag and the anthem and therefore of disrespecting the U.S. Military forces.

But Kaepernick has always stated that he’s protesting the “systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality, and the criminal justice system.” The national anthem, he says, is just the vehicle for the protest.

Why did Kaepernick take a knee?

The decision to take a knee (as opposed to sitting out the Anthem on the bench) was a carefully made one. After discussing his protest with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret and NFL long snapper, Kaeperick came to the decision to kneel. In his words:

“We were talking to [Boyer] about how can we get the message back on track and not take away from the military, not take away from fighting for our country, but keep the focus on what the issues really are.

“And as we talked about it, we came up with taking a knee. Because there are issues that still need to be addressed and it was also a way to show more respect to the men and women who fight for this country.”

Ironically, it’s when Kaepernick began to respectfully take a knee that his message began to be misinterpreted by many Americans as a direct insult to the U.S. military and the flag for which they’ve fought and died.

Because of this protest and subsequent work in the African-American community, however, Amnesty International has awarded Kaepernick with the 2018 Ambassador of Conscience award.

Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem

Do service men and women agree or disagree with Kaepernick’s protest?

Many active military and veterans have come to Kaepernick’s defense. Initially there was Boyer, the former Green Beret and NFL long snapper who helped Kaeperick come to the decision to kneel instead of sit (see above).

Then there was Michael Sand, a former Green Beret who comes from a family of military service members. Sand wrote this on Facebook about the fascism, communism and terrorism his family has fought:

“Three vastly different enemies, but enemies who shared one common trait,” Sand writes. “ALL of them stifle free speech. All of them bully, degrade and terrorize those who hold opposing views and who peacefully express them.”

And Autumn Barney is a military veteran who wrote this about what the kneelers are protesting:

“The truth is that there is racism in the country right now. It’s a huge and disgusting issue, and we don’t seem to be doing a lot to fix it. I understand the argument that kneeling during the national anthem is being disrespectful. I’m a veteran who loves this country and is proud to have served. But I served for a country who is supposed to respect all people. Right now, we aren’t that country.”

Former CIA director John Brennan wrote on Twitter, “Colin Kaepernick drew our collective attention to the problem of continued racial injustice in America. He did so not to disrespect our flag but to give meaning to the words of the preamble of our Constitution – ‘in order to form a more perfect union.’ Well done, Colin, well done.”

Of course, there are plenty of veterans who feel the total opposite and completely disagree with Kaepernick’s kneeling protest.

Johnny Itliong’s father and uncles served in World War II in the U.S Army in the Pacific.

During a speech at a California university, Itliong told an audience:

“If my father and uncles…were alive today, they would pull these boys up by their ears and cuss them out for disrespecting our National Anthem. They fought for their rights and fought for our country during WW2. These spoiled Millionaires.”

Many have pointed out the irony that one of those rights they fought for, the right to free speech, is the one which allows Americans like Kaepernick and the other kneelers to protest.

Is Colin Kaepernick good enough to be in the NFL?

Absolutely, at least as a backup quarterback.

All you have to do is look at his overall rating as a player and compare it to other quarterbacks who currently work in the NFL and it becomes obvious.

After six seasons in the NFL, Kaepernick had a career quarterback rating (QBR) of 88.9.

Now compare 30-year-old Kaepernick’s QBR with a few other career backup quarterbacks who all made the cut this season and who all have solid NFL contracts:

  • the New York Jets’ 39-year-old Josh McCown (QBR  80.8)
  • the Detroit Lions’ 36-year-old Matt Cassel (QBR 78.9)
  • the Cleveland Browns’ 34-year-old Drew Stanton  (QBR 66.3)

It’s difficult to argue that a younger player with a QBR that’s higher than all of those older working quarterbacks shouldn’t, at the very least, secure a solid backup position in the quarterback-starved NFL, but those who are against Kaepernick’s kneeling protests argue that.

Was Colin Kaepernick actually blackballed from the NFL?

To anyone who knows football and business, it sure seems that way.

When asked flat out if he thought Kaepernick was being blackballed, defensive end Michael Bennett told the hosts of Power 105.1 FM’s The Breakfast Club:

“Of course I think Kaepernick’s being blackballed. Obviously, all the stuff to do with the issues, I think nobody likes race and politics in sports. I think it’s one of the things that nobody really wants to talk about. For him to bring up race and politics in sports, I think it struck a lot of people in the wrong way. You watch the people that really watch football, it’s middle America and the people that buy tickets to the game aren’t really African-American people, and for him to bring that into that crowd was one thing that people felt like shouldn’t of been there.”

Movie director Spike Lee agrees.

Lee posted this to his Instagram account:

“Just Had Brunch With My Brother Colin @Kaepernick7. How Is It That There Are 32 NFL Teams And Kap Is Still A Free Agent? WTF. Smells MAD Fishy To Me, Stinks To The High Heavens.”

The Washington Post’s Kevin B. Blackistone explained it clearly in his column when he wrote:

“It wasn’t just that Kaepernick last season dramatically protested the extrajudicial killings of mostly unarmed black men in this country by police who rarely get charged for their actions, let alone prosecuted or convicted. It was that he chose the anthem as his platform. By kneeling during its rendition, he appeared to mar the package of patriotism the NFL put together over the last half century that helped it overtake baseball as America’s sporting pastime.”

In the meantime, Kaepernick has filed a grievance against NFL team owners he claims conspired not to hire him because of his protests, and recently it was ruled that the case can go to trial.

On the other hand, an unnamed NFL executive spoke with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer and explained in no uncertain terms why Colin Kaepernick isn’t good enough to be on an NFL roster.

This is what he said:

“I don’t like the guy as a player. I don’t think he can play. I didn’t think he could play at Reno, I don’t think he can play now. … You don’t think if he was a good player, 20 teams would be lining up? …  He’s inaccurate, inconsistent reading defenses. He needs everything to be perfect around him, and he needs to run a certain offense. When he was rolling, they had an unbelievable defense and a great running game with an amazing offensive line. Everything was perfect. And you consider that, why isn’t there a debate about RG3? He just wasn’t a consideration.”

At least three other NFL executives were said to agree with that assessment.

What is the NIKE endorsement deal everyone is talking about?

Nike has chosen Kaepernick to be one of the faces of a new advertising campaign that celebrates the 30th anniversary of its ‘Just Do It’ slogan. The campaign also includes ads featuring tennis star Serena Williams, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr and Seattle Seahawks rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin.

Nike describes Kaepernick as “one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation”.

Though no exact amount has been reported, according to the Wall Street Journal the contract was a “top of the line” deal for football players.

Sports agents have predicted that due to the sheer amount of exposure the deal has already generated, it will most likely end up being in the ballpark of millions of dollars per year.

The ad itself features a black and white photo of Kaepernick with the message “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” printed across it.

Nike reportedly has big plans for Kaepernick, one insider telling Yahoo Sports that the endorsement deal also includes a line built around him encompassing shoes, shirts, jerseys and other apparel.

Was this a brand new endorsement deal?


It’s actually an extension of an existing 5-year contract between Nike and Kaepernick that was about to expire.

Nike first sponsored Kaepernick back when he was still a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers but hasn’t used him in the last two years since the kneeling controversy erupted. 

Why did Nike give him the endorsement deal?

Unlike the NFL, Nike feels Kaepernick’s face and name are good for its business and are willing to pay top dollar to keep him involved with their interests.

Though many football fans have rejected Kaepernick because of his protests, many others have stepped up and bought his merchandise.

Case in point, in 2016, the year when Kaepernick started kneeling in protest, his #7 jersey went from being the leagues’ 33rd bestseller to 7th at Dick’s Sporting Goods.  That placed his jersey’s popularity in third among quarterbacks, trailing only Carolina Panthers Cam Newton and New England Patriots’ Tom Brady.

The NFL Shop also showed strong sales for Kaepernick jerseys, his red jersey trailing only Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Detractors have accused Nike of disrespecting the military and America by dealing with Kaepernick and have reacted accordingly (see below).

Does this endorsement deal only benefit Colin Kaepernick?

The deal will also include Nike contributions to the Know Your Rights Camp that Kaepernick has been running that speaks to youth about various topics including how to interact with law enforcement.

According to its website, “KNOW YOUR RIGHTS CAMP is a free campaign for youth fully funded by Colin Kaepernick to raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”

The 10 points Kaepernick’s organization emphasizes are:


Was Nike the only company hoping to land an endorsement deal with Kaepernick?


According to a report from Charles Robinson at Yahoo Sports, Adidas and Puma were among the brands that had interest in signing Kaepernick

From Robinson’s report:

“We talked about Colin in March. A lot, actually,” one shoe industry executive said. “We all know the specific kind of deals NFL players are on with each other. His deal was running out and he had a shoe commitment that hadn’t been done for whatever reason. I’m sure it was because of everything that was going on around him. But it looked like Nike was running out the clock on [his deal] because he didn’t have a lot of time left and nothing was really happening with him. So there were some discussions for us about what kind of an endorser he could be.”

What has Colin Kaepernick sacrificed?

Kaepernick’s new Nike ad has “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” printed across it, causing many of his detractors to wonder what Kaepernick has actually sacrificed.

His detractors point out that Kaepernick has not served in the military and is a millionaire athlete who gets to surround himself with the luxury and comfort that having money allows.

But Kaepernick’s supporters argue that he’s had to sacrifice his career in the NFL and the fame and fortune that comes with it.

How did the public initially react to the endorsement deal?

There was immediate backlash, especially on the social media scene.

On Twitter, the hashtags #JustBurnIt – a play on Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan – and #BoycottNike trended, producing more than 800 tweets in a matter of hours Tuesday morning. By the end of the day, it was reported that over 30,000 people had tweeted #NikeBoycott since the campaign was announced.

And protestors weren’t afraid to go the distance.

There was one tweet that included a picture of black shoes with the Nike swooshes cut right out of them that said:

Country singer John Rich was among the protestors threatening to boycott Nike, tweeting out a picture of a person holding the ripped top edges off of two Nike socks saying:

One man shared of video of his NIKE shoes on fire in a field and wrote:

Many more threats to boycott Nike and burn their products (with lots more pictures of people doing just that) floated throughout the internet all day Tuesday.

Has there been any backlash to the backlash?


First people began to call out those Nike swoosh cutting and burning protestors for destroying their own shoes and socks that they had already paid for. Many had fun pointing out that this isn’t the first time certain protestors (read MAGA supporters) have destroyed their own products in the name of protest, recalling the “Keurig Smash Challenge” from last year.

Some others used Twitter and sarcasm to suggest humorous ways to protest similarly:

Many on Facebook were furious at all the perfectly good shoes and clothing that were being destroyed and sent out a version of this post:

And finally some people on Facebook just out and out made fun of the Nike / Kaepernick deal protestors by posting different versions of this:

Go ahead and burn your NIKES …just remember take ’em off first!!

Will Nike lose business because of this?

In the short run, yes.

In fact, Nike Stock (NKE) was down 3 percent as of Tuesday morning, Sept. 4.

Several experts weighed in on the long-term financial impact of this backlash on Nike.

Neil Saunders of GlobalData Retail has said that the campaign will hurt Nike in some parts of the country. He told Reuters, “The company’s stand may go down well on its native West Coast; it will be far less welcome in many other locations.”

Matt Powell, a senior advisor with NPD Group, a market research firm, disagrees. He told Reuters, “The alt-right calls for a Nike boycott will fail just like the boycott of Dick’s Sporting Goods failed. Old angry white guys are not a core demographic for Nike.”

One Facebook user concurs and posted:

Bloomberg reported, “In less than 24 hours since Kaepernick first revealed the spot on Twitter, Nike received more than $43 million worth of media exposure, the vast major of it neutral to positive, according to Apex Marketing Group.”

And according to Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing executive at Baker Street Advertising, that far outweighs the risk of alienating some customers.


Regardless of the growing backlash, Nike is gambling on Kaepernick to be an endorsement winner for their brand and is apparently okay with angering thousands of its customers in the meantime.

Will an official boycott of Nike be organized or will the anger fizzle out?

Will Nike stock continue to take a hit or will those who support the deal begin to invest?

Will Kaepernick use his new fortune to further his cause or further his ego?

Only time will tell, but what’s clear for now is that Nike stands behind its choice.

Nike’s vice president of brand for North America Gino Fisanotti said this about the deal:

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward. We wanted to energize its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes.”

Many Americans disagree and have every right to protest.

Which is ironic, because that’s exactly what got Kaepernick in hot water in the first place.

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Mike Lukas

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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager.
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