Nike, Kaepernick ads called ‘gutsy move’ as reaction continues | TribLIVE.com
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Brian C. Rittmeyer
San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, seen in 2016, kneels during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, in Seattle. Kaepernick has a new deal with Nike, even though the NFL does not want him. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Kelly Hughes hopes those upset with Nike right now will think of kids in the foster system.

Hughes, who founded and directs the non-profit “Foster Love Project,” has asked that people angered by the company’s marketing campaign with controversial former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick consider donating their Nike gear to help Pittsburgh area foster kids instead of destroying it.

“We’re not taking sides one way or another,” Hughes said Wednesday. “We’re not trying to be political. If you are looking to get rid of Nike apparel, we’d love to receive it and pass it on to kids who would use and enjoy it.”

Kaepernick signed a new, multiyear deal with Nike. It makes him a face of the 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” campaign. An ad is slated to run during the NFL’s regular-season opener with the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles on NBC.

WATCH NIKE’S AD WITH COLIN KAEPERNICK

The announcement of the deal drew quick social and political backlash from those angered by the company associating with Kaepernick, who in 2016 chose to kneel on one knee during the national anthem at the start of NFL games as a protest against racial injustice. Other NFL players followed suit, prompting President Donald Trump to attack the players and the league, accusing them of being unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag, the nation and veterans.

After the marketing campaign was announced, photos and videos appeared on social media of people cutting the iconic Nike swoosh off their socks or burning their Nike shoes. Trump attacked Nike and the NFL on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!” the president tweeted.

Nike’s stock took a hit Tuesday, falling more than 3 percent, but was up Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a gutsy move by Nike,” said Kelly Moore, an assistant professor in marketing and sports marketing at Duquesne University. “There was serious public backlash when he protested last year, and now it’s been reignited.”

Why Nike would do a deal with Kaepernick is “the million dollar question,” she said.

“Nike has thrived in the past on taking a stance on these type of political issues. It falls in line with their strategy as a company,” she said. “They have a longstanding relationship with Colin. They have compatible value systems.”

Kaepernick has been a Nike endorser since 2011.

Nike may have jeopardized its contract with the NFL, which supplies uniforms to 32 teams, Moore said. Kaepernick, who hasn’t played in more than a year, has a grievance against the league.

“Nike maybe didn’t run this by the NFL first,” she said. “It’s going to be tough for Nike and the NFL to keep their relationship going forward.”

The NFL released a statement Tuesday, saying it “believes in dialogue, understanding and unity.

“We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities,” the league said in the statement. “The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”

Moore said Nike could be hurt short-term in the court of public opinion, but does not expect the company’s long-term sales to be affected very much. Such a move appeals to the millennial generation, Nike’s target audience, she said.

“The people that wear Nike are going to stand by them even through something like this,” she said. “In the short-term, they’re going to get a lot of backlash.”

Other organizations and individuals have asked people angry with Nike to not destroy their socks or burn their shoes. Joshua Perry, a former Ohio State University football player who retired from the NFL in July, ask people to donate their Nike items to people who would appreciate them. Another person on Twitter posted the addresses of two Goodwills, a Salvation Army, a Habitat for Humanity and other charities in Bloomington, Ind.

Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania spokesman David Tobiczyk said the organization hasn’t noticed any change in donation patterns, but that it’s too soon to tell and Goodwill does not track donations by brand.

Hughes at Foster Love Project put out her tweet for donations of Nike gear on Tuesday. The store in Dormont — the only free donation center for kids in foster care in the region — wasn’t open that day, and she said they haven’t gotten any donations yet.

Hughes said she’s actually hoping there won’t be many donations of unwanted Nike apparel.

“I’m hoping it’s a very small minority of people truly wanting to get rid of this gear,” she said. “We work with the most vulnerable children in the community. We need to stand up for those who don’t have a voice.”

But the donation is out there as an option “if people do feel they need to get rid of that brand,” she said.

The store, at 2865 Espy Ave., will next be open from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday. There, foster parents and kids can get things they need for free.

Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, brittmeyer@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.

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