“Believe in something,” Nike’s newest ad campaign flashes across the screen. “Even if it means sacrificing everything.” These words sit over an intense picture of Colin Kaepernick’s face, a close up showing a determined look, proclaiming him the new spokesperson for the company’s thirty-year anniversary. And just like that, everyone had an opinion. Support was pledged on one side while the smell of burning rubber wafted from the other. Everyone has an opinion, but people aren’t focusing on the real issue when it comes to the multibillion-dollar sportswear company.
Colin Kaepernick started making headlines in the early 2016 NFL preseason when he chose not to stand for the national anthem. Kaepernick’s decision to exercise his free speech rights stemmed from the constant violence African Americans face at the hands of police across the country. The 49ers quarterback originally began his protest by sitting on the bench during each game’s national anthem. After meeting with army green beret Nate Boyer, who advised Kaepernick that it would be more respectful to kneel than sit, Kaepernick did just that.
In early September of that same season, Kaepernick’s message had gained recognition. Safety Eric Reid joined his teammate in taking-a-knee while Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks sat during the anthem. Throughout the season, Kaepernick’s actions encouraged many athletes at the high school, college, and professional level, not just NFL players, to participate in his peaceful protest. In early September of 2016 a football player from Brunswick High School in Ohio knelt during the national anthem and later that same month four players from Withrow High School in Connecticut also took a knee. The Oakland Athletic’s catcher, Bruce Maxwell, also joined in on the protest. in October of 2017 J.T. Brown, a hockey player for the Tampa Bay Lightning raised his fist during the national anthem while on the bench.
By the end of the season, Kaepernick had sparked a debate. However, instead of focusing on Kaepernick’s original message--bringing attention to police brutality and the unfair treatment of people of color in America-a war over “respecting the flag” had begun.
Kaepernick has been blacklisted from the NFL for doing nothing more than practicing his first amendment
rights, all while being labeled as a man who hates the United States, veterans, and the flag, despite the fact that his protest had nothing to do with any of those things in the first place.
After his absence from the 2017 NFL, it seemed America was done with this conversation. That was until Nike unveiled its new ad in early September. While everyone is busy yelling about Colin Kaepernick being the new face of Nike, no one, on either side, is acknowledging that a large majority of Nike merchandise is made in sweatshops.
You’ve probably heard this word before: sweatshop. But what is a sweatshop? It’s generally thought to be a factory that violates labor laws. The work is usually dangerous and difficult, resulting in health problems and injuries. Sweatshops originated in the 1830s and 40s as a cheap and quick way to make clothing. Around 1911, the public’s perception of sweatshops began to change. While unions, fire and workplace safety regulations, minimum wage, and labor laws tried to eliminate sweatshops, the ugly truth of the matter is that they still exist today.
As early as the 1970s, Nike was accused of using sweatshops to mass produce their products. Originally, Nike ran sweatshops in China and South Korea, but as these countries’ economies grew, the shops lost workers to higher paying jobs, causing Nike to move to areas where they could find cheaper labor. Although it is unknown how many Nike sweatshops exist, they are most prominent throughout Asia and Central America.
Nike’s biggest excuse over the years has been that because they do not own the subcontracted factories they cannot be held accountable for their conditions, which is a pretty irresponsible way to approach the subject. This means that Nike does not build the sweatshop and hire the workers, they employ the entire sweatshop to make their merchandise.
In 2005, protests erupted at universities across the United States, demanding Nike and other big companies to stop using sweatshops to make their products. The short documentary Behind the Swoosh investigates what it is like to work in a sweatshop and what countries are most susceptible to creating them. Most Nike sweatshops are located in countries we often see as “poorer” like Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, and Mexico but can also be found in the United States, Australia, and Canada. In these sweatshops, workers are forced to work long hours while making around twenty cents an hour. Working conditions are often hazardous and overcrowded.
It’s ironic that Nike has been using these sweatshops since the early 1970s and the public has known about it for just as long, yet it has no impact on sales. No, people are instead drawing the line at Nike featuring a black man who had the audacity to stand up for marginalized people in the United States. So next time we express our opinion over Colin Kaepernick being the new face of Nike, consider the fact that the true issue doesn’t lie with him at all. The true issue is that companies are run by greedy people who are willing to do whatever needs to be done to make a quick buck. We should also keep in mind that if Nike truly resonated with Kaepernick’s message and cared about marginalized people, they would not be running sweatshops across the world.