Recent controversy over Nike’s new campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick has reopened old wounds — stirring reactions even in the small town of Hillsdale.
“It’s a little disheartening now that we have political agendas associated with clothing,” said Junior Bryce Sealock, a kicker on the Hillsdale College football team. “I’m still going to wear Nike, mainly because it costs a lot to buy more clothes, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the point where you can say Colin Kaepernick is now the fanboy of Nike.”
Uday Singh, Junior Defensive Lineman, likes that Nike made Kaepernick their spokesman. “It feels like Nike is trying to compensate him for the game checks he lost along the way,” Singh said. “I really liked the ad they made with him. I thought it was well done.”
In August 2016, the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers began protesting the national anthem. Kaepernick began by sitting on the bench while everyone else stood. In the games to follow, he progressed to kneeling during the “The Star Spangled Banner.” Kaepernick said that he protested because of the oppression of people of color and racial issues regarding police brutality.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick said in a press conference back in August 2016, when his protest caught national attention. “When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
Since then, Americans have had more than enough time to dissect and debate the controversy — even U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed his disapproval of the protest.
On Sept. 3, 2018, Nike announced their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign featuring Kaepernick and the slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It received both widespread support and backlash on social media; some people running to Nike’s aide and others quickly burning their products.
The Hillsdale College’s head football coach, Keith Otterbein, took a stance on the controversy.
“It is absolutely inappropriate to disrespect our flag,” Otterbein said. “For me, that action of taking a knee during our national anthem disrespects the flag, and the flag represents all those families who have lost loved ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice to give us the freedoms that we have.”
As far as the recent developments in the Kaepernick story, Otterbein said he is surprised that Nike would choose Kaepernick as their poster boy.
“I don’t know why Nike would choose to stir it up anymore,” Otterbein said. “He hasn’t played in like two years. To me it’s not even a story.”
Otterbein is grateful that Hillsdale’s football team is sponsored by Adidas and not Nike.
“I would struggle with that, that’s a very poor choice by a company in terms of an identity,” Otterbein said. “I don’t know why you would want to associate yourself with someone, who, in my opinion, has disrespected our country and our flag.”
Marc Lemerand, head coach of the Hillsdale High School football team, had a different stance.
“The great thing about America is the rights guaranteed by our Constitution,” Lemerand said, “whether that’s the right to protest Nike’s advertising choices or the right of Mr. Kaepernick to protest.”
Neither Otterbein nor Lemerand have had players that knelt during the national anthem. Otterbein has not addressed his team in regards to the national anthem protests because he frankly doesn’t think it will ever be a problem at Hillsdale College.
“Here, there is just so much about team, team 126. 126 years of Charger football in the tradition,” Otterbein said. “One of our core words is tradition, another is character, and the other one is service. Those three words all speak to not displaying the individuality of seeking attention by taking a knee or doing something to draw attention to oneself.”
Sealock said that although no Hillsdale College players have taken a knee, a few of the schools they have played in the past have stayed in the locker room or had players who knelt during the national anthem. Both Sealock and Singh agreed that if Nike sponsored Hillsdale, most of the players would not be bothered by it, but some parents, alumni, and administrators might think otherwise.
“I still wear my Nike gloves,” Singh said. “I know there are other guys that still wear Nike gloves and cleats.”
Sealock said that Kaepernick is using his fame and fortune to promote himself, but he doesn’t fully knock Nike for their actions.
“I don’t necessarily have a problem with the Nike commercial because the message is actually decent,” Sealock said. “They reference a whole bunch of athletes who came from nothing, worked hard, persevered, and became great. The problem is that Kaepernick is trying to equate himself to those athletes.”
On the other hand, Singh says that Kaepernick is both deserving and appropriate for the Nike campaign.
“He trained his whole life to be a football player, and he has the talent to still be on an NFL roster,” Singh said. “But he tried to speak out against a social issue and has been deemed too much of a distraction for any team to bring in.”
Sealock said that “charity work to raise awareness but also to initiate change” is a better way that Kaepernick could represent his values. “Showing the American populace the problems that exist through his deeds will win over far more people than attacking a symbol that means far more to a lot of people,” he said.
Singh noted that though he thinks there are better ways to protest, Kaepernick’s actions were nonviolent.
“The whole point was to have a conversation about racial injustices, which we’re still talking about today,” Singh said. “I think there were players that jumped on kneeling just for attention, but Kaepernick gave a million back to the communities so I think he talks the talk and walks the walk.”
Both coaches Otterbein and Lemerand agreed that football will rise above the divisions and that the recent controversy doesn’t take away from the heart of the game.
“Time heals all wounds,” Otterbein said. “I think eventually it will all disappear.”
Lemerand mentioned that his players participate in the community through events like “Victory Day” and “Area 29 Twi-Light 5k” and he doesn’t think the game is affected by the controversy.
“Our goal is to help kids,” Lemerand said. “We use football as our vehicle.”