Colin Kaepernick’s longtime business relationship with Nike drew renewed scrutiny on Tuesday after the former NFL quarterback reportedly influenced the brand’s decision to cancel the release of its commemorative Fourth of July “Betsy Ross flag” sneakers.
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A Nike endorser since 2011 and prominent social activist, Kaepernick told company executives that the sneaker design was offensive because it featured a flag from an era when slavery was still legal in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported. Nike pulled the sneaker, dubbed the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July, from stores just days before release.
“We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services. Nike made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday,” the company said in a statement.
Nike did not address whether Kaepernick played a role in the canceled sneaker release. Kaepernick has yet to comment on the situation.
Kaepernick gained international attention in recent years for his role in leading NFL player protests during the national anthem. More recently, he served as the face of Nike’s marketing campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan.
FOX Business breaks down Kaepernick’s history with Nike below.
2011: Nike signs Kaepernick to an endorsement deal
Nike signs Kaepernick, a rookie out of the University of Nevada, to an endorsement deal, adding him to its lengthy list of NFL endorsers. The San Francisco 49ers draft Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.
2012: Nike enters partnership with NFL
The sports apparel giant secures the NFL’s exclusive apparel rights in a deal valued at more than $1 billion. At the same time, Kaepernick supplants Alex Smith as the 49ers’ starting quarterback and leads the franchise to a deep playoff run, culminating in a Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
2014: Kaepernick signs $126M contract with 49ers, but struggles begin
After a strong 2013 season, Kaepernick and the 49ers agree to a six-year, $126 million contract extension that included $54 million guaranteed at signing. At the time, the deal appeared to cement Kaepernick’s status as the 49ers’ franchise quarterback. However, the 49ers struggled to an 8-8 record in 2014, and head coach Jim Harbaugh left to coach the University of Michigan.
2016: The national anthem protests
After an injury-plagued 2015 season, Kaepernick entered the 2016 campaign in a full-fledged competition for the starting quarterback job. However, he drew international scrutiny for his actions off the field.
During the 2016 NFL preseason, Kaepernick became the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem, in what he said was a protest against police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. Subsequent protests throughout the 2016 and 2017 seasons drew the ire of President Trump and led some to suggest that the demonstrations were to blame for a decline in NFL television viewership.
2016 to 2018: Kaepernick’s relationship with Nike goes dormant
Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers after the 2016 season and became a free agent, but remained an active figure in discussions between the NFL and protesting players about its approach to social justice.
Nike did not use Kaepernick in any advertising campaigns during this period. At the same time, Kaepernick and former 49ers teammate Eric Reid filed suit against the NFL, alleging that league executives colluded to keep him off the field. Months later, the two sides reached a financial settlement.
Despite the lawsuit, the NFL expressed support for Nike’s decision, with one executive stating that the social justice movement that Kaepernick helped to popularize “deserve[s] our attention and action.”
September 2018: Nike doubles down
In September, Nike renews Kaepernick’s endorsement deal, which had been on the verge of expiring, despite the fact that he had not played in the NFL in nearly two years. At the same time, Nike announces that Kaepernick would be the face of its marketing campaign for the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan.
The decision drew a mixed reaction on social media, and Nike shares briefly sank on the news. However, the company’s stock rallied, and a report by Edison Trends suggested that the company’s e-commerce sales spiked in the days after the announcement.
In an earnings call days after the announcement, Kaepernick said the campaign had generated “a real uptick” in sales and customer engagement.
February 2019: Nike’s Kaepernick jersey sells out in hours
A special edition Nike jersey featuring Kaepernick’s name sells out in less than 24 hours. The jersey featured an all-black color scheme and the number 7, which Kaepernick wore during his time with the 49ers.
June 2019: Nike pulls ‘Betsy Ross flag’ sneaker launch
The apparel giant canceled a sneaker that featured Betsy Ross’ 13-star American flag just days before its release. The Wall Street Journal reported that Nike’s decision came after Kaepernick raised concerns that the flag was offensive because it was created when slavery was still legal in the United States. In response, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey withdrew financial incentives for a planned Nike manufacturing plant in the state.
Nike said the sneaker was nixed out of a fear that it might “unintentionally offend” some customers, but did not address whether Kaepernick was a factor in the decision.