Yesterday, Nike released an advertisement in which they supported NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality and the assaults on black men. Kaepernick’s message is important and all should hear it. It should not be twisted into a “Kaepernick doesn’t support the flag” because that’s not what he’s saying. It should not be corrupted into a jingoistic affront against patriotism. There’s too many instances of young men like Philandro Castile and Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin who are dying for no other reason than they were black men against the gun-toting white man.
And believe me, Kaepernick’s message is important. These lives matter. No man should be ever be in a situation where they can get in trouble for ___________ing while black. This message should not be diluted or co-opted in any way. It should not be lost. It should not be stifled. It should not be compromised.
Trust me. We live in horrific days. We have Neo-Nazis who used a car to mow down counter-protestors in Charlottesville last year, killing an innocent young woman in the process. We recently had an instance of a man in Albany getting violently assaulted for no reason other than the man was gay. The bigots and racists are emboldened, and now feel that they are justified in their hatred and misogyny and xenophobia and virulence. Shameful.
And for any reader right now to say to me, “Chuck, you don’t understand, you’re not black, you don’t know what the struggle is,” I say, to you, “Yeah, I’m not black. I get that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have eyes. Or that my father’s side of the family hasn’t experienced Anti-Semitism, whether in America or when they escaped the progroms in Eastern Europe. Or that some of my mother’s ancestors haven’t had to deal with forced resettlements and the “Trail of Tears” and being told that our greatest role models are Pocahontas and Tonto. And don’t even get me started on all the crap my brave son Kris has had to go through as a transgender man.”
I’m glad Nike has put out this message. I really am.
I just wish Nike practiced what it preached.
And that’s the part of the story that must be told.
Because, at the end of the day, Nike is not a social justice organization. It’s a shoe company. Its main raison d’etre is to sell shoes.
And those shoes are made overseas – in sweatshop factories in Vietnam and in Bangladesh and in Cambodia. They’re made with child labor, where women and children earn pennies a day as they inhale poisonous and noxious glues and chemicals that put those sneakers together ever day.
And the cost for Nike to make each shoe? Pennies. Which are then turned around and sold for high markups – $200 or so – at Foot Lockers and other sneaker shops nationwide.
And if you say to me, “Chuck, we’re talking about black lives in America, not Asian lives in Asia – ”
I say to you, “Why is an Asian man’s life less important than anyone else’s life?”
Now there have been basketball players in the past who have tried to create a popular shoe that wouldn’t bankrupt families who want their kids to wear decent sneakers to school. Hakeem Olajuwon and Stephon Marbury both created inexpensive sneakers and kept the price points affordable. But unfortunately, those days are long past. Today, you want to buy a pair of Air Jordans? $200 and up. $499 if you want to buy Lonzo Ball’s “Big Baller Brand” kicks. And the prices increase every day.
And Nike has also been accused of perpetuating a high-end sneaker culture that has cost some kids their lives. Yes, there are kids that have been killed for no other reason than the killers wanted the shoes on the victims’ feet. Honestly, no one should die just because they have a colorful pair of Air Jordans size 10 in their possession.
And it’s not like Nike hasn’t previously embraced a controversial figure with a series of advertisements. They stuck with Tiger Woods – and did commercials with him – after Woods’ extramarital affairs came to light.
The fact is …. while Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick is noble and lauded, and his message should be heard by everyone … and that one day we will see an end to police brutality and the senseless murders of black youth …
Nike has to clean up its own personal closet and address its own abuses, both in terms of labor and in culture.
Because the message should be, “Treat people with respect, don’t naturally assume that a person is less of a man because of his ethnicity, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.”
It should NOT be, “Buy our company’s shoes, above all else.”