Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who inspired a player protest movement but who has been out of a job for more than a year, has signed a new, multiyear deal with Nike that makes him a face of the 30th anniversary of the sports apparel company’s “Just Do It” campaign, Nike confirmed Monday.
The first advertisement from Nike, one of the league’s top partners, debuted Monday afternoon, when Kaepernick tweeted it, assuring that his activism and the protest movement against racism and social injustice he started would continue to loom over one of the country’s most powerful sports leagues.
Nike will produce new Kaepernick apparel, including a shoe and a T-shirt, and if the merchandise sells well, the value of the deal will rival those of other top NFL players, according to people close to the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because Nike had not formally announced it. Nike will also donate money to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign.
The NFL did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The ad and the campaign, coming a few days before the start of the NFL season Thursday, is likely to annoy the league’s top executives and its owners. On Thursday, Kaepernick won a victory in his grievance against the league when an arbitrator let his case, in which he accuses the league of conspiring to keep him off the field because of his activism, advance.
A wave of on-field protests has continued, with varying degrees of intensity, since summer 2016, when Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.
The NFL has struggled to contain the on-field protests, which have also included raised fists and other gestures, which league officials have blamed for dragging down the league. Television ratings have declined and certain segments of the fan base have reacted angrily. President Donald Trump has made the NFL a target for not firing players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
The Kaepernick deal could be awkward for the league.
In March, Nike and the NFLannounced an extension of an apparel deal through 2028. As part of that deal, Nike supplies 32 teams with gameday uniforms and sideline apparel that features the company’s swoosh logo. When that deal was announced, Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, called the company “a longtime and trusted partner” of the league.
Kaepernick and Nike already had an endorsement deal, dating to when he entered the league in 2011, but it was expiring soon and has now been extended.
The new Kaepernick ad features a close-up, black-and-white photograph of his face, with copy that references his kneeling and his belief that his activism is keeping him out of the league.
The ad reads: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
When asked if Nike had run the campaign by the NFL, a spokeswoman, Sandra Carreon-John, responded: “Nike has a long-standing relationship with the NFL and works extensively with the league on all campaigns that use current NFL players and its marks. Colin is not currently employed by an NFL team and has no contractual obligation to the NFL.”
The new contract was negotiated by Kaepernick’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, and Nike executives.
Even as the NFL season approaches, the Kaepernick story has continued to dominate the NFL narrative. On Friday, Kaepernick received an ovation from the crowd at the U.S. Open match between Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
Serena Williams, LeBron James, Odell Beckham Jr., Shaquem Griffin and Lacey Baker are also part of the “Just Do It” anniversary campaign.
Nike’s decision to make new Kaepernick merchandise and to make him the face of a campaign could, if they are successful for the company, undercut the argument from NFL owners that he is bad for business. Previously, Nike stated that it “supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society,” but the company had not used Kaepernick in any recent ad campaigns.
With Kaepernick seemingly having little chance of playing in the NFL again, Geragos was eager to try to portray him as something more than a football player.
“I give Nike credit for understanding that he’s not just an athlete; he has become an icon,” Geragos said.