Nike Nearly Cut Colin Kaepernick Loose Before Major Campaign

In 2017, a debate raged on whether or not to keep the controversial unemployed quarterback.

Nike's Controversial Colin Kaepernick Ad Nabs Emmy Award
A billboard featuring former San Francisco 49ers quaterback Colin Kaepernick. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Getty Images

Last month, Colin Kaepernick was revealed as the face of Nike’s new advertising campaign. The video accompanying the campaign has more than 80 million views on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Since the “Just Do It” Kaepernick ads first ran, Nike’s stock has risen 6.25 percent, an increase in value for the company of $6.38 billion.

Kaepernick himself has been sent to a new realm of celebrity. He has signed deals to write a book and to develop a comedy series.

But all of this almost didn’t happen. According to The New York Times, during the summer of 2017, a debate raged in Nike’s headquarters about whether or not to keep the controversial, unemployed quarterback. Two individuals with knowledge of the discussions said that the company very nearly cut Kaepernick loose, because embracing him would risk angering the NFL, a Nike partner since 2012.

The company ultimately decided it was worth the risk, mainly because of the credibility the company would gain with the young, urban market that it has been targeting for a long time.

Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games to protest racism, social inequality and police brutality in 2016. The protests ignited a debate across the country. The quarterback left the 49ers after the 2016 season and became a free agent, but no team signed him. He was largely ignored by Nike for a year, according to The Times. But the company concluded that getting behind Kaepernick’s crusade made good business sense.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.