Americans love villains, or at least love to hate them. Darth Vader beating up on dashing Luke Skywalker and Lord Voldemort scaring the innocent young Harry Potter are the stuff of tales that affirm the triumph of good over evil. When the script is flipped and the anti-hero prevails, audiences boo, hiss and jeer. So, too, there’s hissing at Nike’s attempt to transform Colin Kaepernick, the league’s bad boy, into Sergeant York. Americans aren’t buying it.
Mr. Kaepernick, who started the fad of kneeling for the national anthem before the game, has signed a lucrative deal that makes him the face of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The dark visage of the onetime San Francisco 49ers quarterback is splashed across the scene with a pithy call to arms: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” (Whatever that means.)
Mr. Kaepernick knows something about sacrifice. His personal crusade for “social justice” has derailed a career in professional football, costing him millions of dollars. Nike is redeeming his loss with a contract worthy of “a top-end NFL player,” according to Yahoo Sports, including his own branded line of football gear.
The sidelined signal-caller’s refusal to stand for the “Star Spangled Banner” during the 2016 season fueled the Black Lives Matter protests against police shootings of black men. His contract with the 49ers was not renewed and he became persona non grata to owners of the other teams, who prefer not to partner with a man who wears socks depicting cops as pigs.
Mr. Kaepernick’s crusade rests upon a myth, that trigger-happy cops go hunting for black men to shoot and kill. In 2017, for example, 987 persons were fatally shot by police, according to a database compiled by The Washington Post. Of those, 940 were male. Of those, 458 were white, 223 were black and 179 were Hispanic. Most of those killed were armed — 579 with guns, 156 with knives, and 26 with toy weapons. Of the unarmed 68 men fatally shot, 19 were black.
Every needless death is a tragedy and wearing a badge does not immunize those enforcing the law against making mistakes. But in an American population of 325 million, 20 million are black men, and their chances of being killed by police while unarmed is about the same as being killed by lightning strike.
Mr. Kaepernick fanned the anger over police shootings in 2016 even as the number of deaths declined. His lamentations might have been saved for police officers, whose deaths in the line of duty were on the rise. The number of officer fatalities receded in 2017, but is running higher this year with 37 recorded so far by the Officer Down Memorial Page. In contrast to Nike’s new marketing star, these officers and their families actually did sacrifice everything.
Most NFL players have either refrained from kneeling at games altogether or have stopped protesting, but the damage to the league’s reputation as an all-American enterprise has been done. The NFL lost about 8 percent of its television audience in 2016 and another 10 percent last year.
The new season opens Thursday night with a match between the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons, and it starts with an unforced fumble. Team owners approved new regulations that obligate players to stand on the sidelines for the anthem or remain in the locker room. In the face of widespread criticism, the owners blinked and suspended their rules. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds that 54 percent of respondents consider kneeling during the national anthem “inappropriate.”
With social media ablaze with patriotic sportsmen burning their Nike sneakers in protest, the value of Nike stock has tumbled more than $4 billion. Sports fans can get along without citizenship lectures from rich spoiled athletes, and they don’t need Colin Kaepernick prompting them to “believe in something.” They already do. It’s called “America,” and they show no sign of surrendering it to a washed-up quarterback.
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