Like it or not, Nike’s move this week to launch a fresh advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick puts rival Under Armour in what may be an uncomfortable position in the nation’s ongoing cultural and political debate.
By embracing Kaepernick, whose stature as a spokesman for the campaign against police violence against African Americans has pitted him at the center of that debate, Nike has taken a calculated gamble that many of the athletes in its endorsement stable — and the increasingly young fans whose dollars the company covets — identify with Kaepernick. President Trump’s withering criticism of the unemployed quarterback — who believes he has been banned by the league for his political stand — may only deepen Nike’s feeling that it has chosen the right symbol.
Which brings us to Under Armour. Among the Baltimore company’s stable of athletes is the NFL’s iconic quarterback, Tom Brady. No one would quarrel with Brady’s extraordinary record of success, but in many respects he is the epitome of the establishment athlete. He plays for Trump’s favorite team, the New England Patriots, and while Brady is uncomfortable with the topic, he’s been a casual friend of Trump’s back when the president was just a real estate developer and reality TV star.
As with any of these discussions, it’s easy to draw glib conclusions. Brady has joined the ranks of other athletes, such as LeBron James, who have expressed support for the Nike campaign. Still, for Under Armour, locked in a competition with Nike to see who can develop the most compelling and edgy narrative about its values and products, the Kaepernick campaign may put it at a disadvantage.