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Luther and Nike partnership persists through controversy

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Luther and Nike partnership persists through controversy

Luke Sinclair (‘20) competes in a Nike uniform during the All-American Invitational on Sept. 8.

Luke Sinclair (‘20) competes in a Nike uniform during the All-American Invitational on Sept. 8.

Photo courtesy of Luther Athletics

Luke Sinclair (‘20) competes in a Nike uniform during the All-American Invitational on Sept. 8.

Photo courtesy of Luther Athletics

Photo courtesy of Luther Athletics

Luke Sinclair (‘20) competes in a Nike uniform during the All-American Invitational on Sept. 8.

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Luther’s partnership with Nike will continue after Nike signed retired San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick as one of their spokespeople. In 2016, Kaepernick chose to kneel on one knee instead of stand during the national anthem which, in turn, caused a national controversy about freedom of expression. When Nike signed him, a series of boycotts against the athlete’s company began.

Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Renae Hartl first made the decision in 2016 to switch from five apparel and gear partnerships to one with Nike for varying reasons.

“The agreement with Nike allowed us to streamline our logo, identity and color into a strong, unified look for Luther Athletics,” Hartl said. “Our student-athletes and coaches work hard, very hard, to be successful, so it is very important that we commit to offering and outfitting them with the world’s leading and most innovative apparel, shoes, and equipment.”

During the 49ers’ final 2016 preseason game on Sept. 1, Kaepernick was the first NFL player to kneel for the national anthem in an attempt to raise awareness for the social injustice of racial minorities.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in an interview with NFL Media. “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.”

Photo courtesy of Photo Bureau
Marta Springer (‘19) sports Nike gear at the women’s soccer match against Illinois Wesleyan University.

Some say that Kaepernick is disrespecting the national anthem, while others feel that he is using his platform as a professional athlete to gain visibility for his cause. Kaepernick’s actions have opened up a conversation about free speech and expression.

Student-athletes like football player Dylan Sheely (‘22) applaud Kaepernick for this.

“I think, as far as the Kaepernick side of things, it is his right to express what he feels about his social justice causes,” Sheely said. “If anything, Nike made a business decision by realizing they could capitalize off the people rallying behind him.”

As a Nike-affiliated school, Luther’s sports teams are all Nike consumers. However, many athletes’ personal loyalty to Nike has not been swayed by the company’s partnership with Kaepernick. Member of the volleyball team Paige Yontz (‘20) still purchases products from Nike.

“Personally, I haven’t paid much attention to the ad,” Yontz said. “I can see how it could potentially cause some issues for Nike, but, as a Nike consumer myself, I haven’t been impacted by their advertising decision.”

While the ad has not affected all Nike’s customers, it has initiated a series of boycotts including the online hashtag  #boycottNike. Videos of Nike customers purchasing and then burning their purchases have gone viral and sparked national conversation about Nike’s political alignment. Boycotters claim Nike is playing to liberals and elites and therefore further dividing America.

Track and Field athlete Shannon Baker (‘20) thinks the boycotting of Nike raises many questions for consumers.

“It’s a tough decision either way,” Baker said. “If you choose to boycott Nike, what are you really protesting? Kaepernick’s involvement in the campaign? Kaepernick’s message? Or are you stating your opposition to corporate America’s marketing ploys?”

The question of what it means to protest a brand is a challenging one to answer, but for wrestler John Keifer (‘20), Luther’s decision to stay with Nike speaks to Luther’s values.

“I think it represents what Luther is about,” Keifer said. “Nike challenges the norm and questions it. They also take action to resolve the problems persisting in our society. It’s exactly what Luther advocates.”

While the conversation about social justice and its role in consumerism has interested athletes, the Athletic Department stands by its decision to stay with Nike.

“Nike taking a stance on social issues is nothing new,” Hartl said. “Nike took a calculated risk with their Kaepernick ad, as they have marketing experts that know who their target customers are and which consumers support socially-active brands. This ad will not change Luther’s relationship with them.”

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