President Donald Trump criticized Nike for sending a “terrible message” after it released an ad on Monday featuring quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is suing the NFL for allegedly blacklisting him after he began kneeling in protest during the playing of the National Anthem.
The Nike ad, recognizing the 30th anniversary of its slogan “Just Do It,” is a close-up photograph of Kaepernick with two lines of text. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” it reads.
Trump said in an interview with The Daily Caller, a conservative website, that “there’s no reason” for Nike (NKE) to feature Kaepernick in the campaign.
“I think it’s a terrible message and a message that shouldn’t be sent,” Trump said, though he acknowledged Nike’s right to decide its own marketing strategy. “It is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do, but I personally am on a different side of it.”
In a dispute with unmistakable racial overtones, Trump has regularly criticized the protests begun by Kaepernick, which spread across all of the National Football League’s teams. The players who participate — nearly all of them black — kneel or remain seated during “The Star Spangled Banner” to protest police brutality.
The president has often used crude and belittling language about the players who engage in the protests. At a political rally in September 2017 he said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now!” In a tweet last month, Trump insulted the players’ intelligence, saying that they are protesting “something that most of them are unable to define.”
Trump canceled a White House visit by the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles in June after learning that most of the team’s players wouldn’t attend. Many professional athletes have gone public with their antipathy toward Trump, and several have publicly accused the president of racism, citing his equivocation over the white supremacists who violently protested in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year and other actions.
Kaepernick hasn’t played professionally since 2016, and he filed a grievance against the NFL in November, charging that team owners had colluded to retaliate against him for the protests. An arbitrator allowed Kaepernick to proceed with a lawsuit against the league last month. He previously played for the San Francisco 49ers.
Nike signed Kaepernick to an endorsement deal in 2011 and kept him under contract even though he couldn’t get a job in the NFL, ESPN reported Monday. “We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America, told ESPN.