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Sports & Politics Intersect: Nike just does it

"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt" - Colin Kaepernick

Nike has thrown even more fuel onto the ongoing national quarrel over NFL players protesting police brutality and racial inequality during pregame ceremonies by announcing that Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, would be the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.

The response from both sides of the argument was immediate. 

On the left, Nike was praised for sticking with Kaepernick, whom they signed to an endorsement deal in 2011 before reupping it this year. (It included a massive donation to his charity and an apparel line.) Some saw the deal as a way for Nike to get involved in the fight for social justice. That Nike is a publicly traded company with obligations to its shareholders wasn't lost on everyone, however.

On the right, Kaepernick was erroneously lambasted for disrespecting the flag and the military, with some saying that Kap's actions were a disgrace to the legacy of Pat Tillman — a notion his family has repeatedly dismissed in its many failed attempts to stop people from politicizing his death. And while several police groups decried Nike, the National Black Police Association lauded the company

As expected, President Donald Trump, whose distaste for the NFL likely dates back to his USFL days, chimed in, saying that Nike was "getting killed" because of the ad. 

That is far from the truth. While Nike's stock did drop (so did Adidas' and Puma's, by the way), it has since rebounded. More importantly, industry experts are viewing the company's choice as being good for business; one analyst estimated that the online chatter over the announcement generated as much as $43 million worth of free digital advertising. Yes, Nike took a "calculated risk." But unlike the NFL, the company was making it known that it is focusing on a much younger and therefore more diverse demographic. 

And speaking of the NFL, easily the party most affected in the short term by Nike's decision, it has been mostly quiet. On Tuesday, the NFL issued a measured response to the ad in spite of the fact that Nike was planning on releasing the first ad during Thursday's NFL opening game between the Falcons and the Eagles.

"The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action," the statement read

Even Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner and one of the more vocal individuals calling for players to stop their protests, had nothing but pleasant things to say about the giant apparel company. 

“Yeah. First of all, I do have tremendous respect for Nike as a company and for Phil Knight and just everything they’ve meant to sports,” he told local media outlets

Why the diplomatic tone? That Nike and the NFL signed a 10-year extension on their partnership earlier this year might have something to do with it.

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  • Orioles to wear Braille-themed jerseys - While the team is terrible on the field, the Baltimore Orioles plan to hit a home run with a nod to the National Federation of the Blind. Against Toronto on Sept. 18, the team will wear special jerseys with Braille lettering to honor the organization’s 40th anniversary in Baltimore.

  • Former relief pitcher “investing” in minor leaguers  - Former Phillies reliever Michael Schwimer operates Big League Advance, a firm that identifies potential major league talent in the minors and offers lump sum payments to those players in exchange for a percent of their future MLB salaries.

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  • Phil Knight writes huge check for Oregon gubernatorial candidate - The Nike co-founder made a $1 million donation to Knute Buehler, Oregon’s Republican candidate for governor, and it is the largest single political donation for state office since contributions were tracked, starting in 2006. Buehler faces the incumbent, Democrat Kate Brown, in November.

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This week in sports and politics history: “The Forgotten Protest” of the 1972 Summer Olympics 

Vincent Matthews (right) and Wayne Collett (left) on the medal stand during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Bettman/Getty Images 

“My action mirrored the attitude of white America toward Blacks: casual, ignoring them (Blacks). As long as we’re not embarrassing you, it’s OK.” - American sprinter Wayne Collett to Jet magazine on failing to stand at attention on the medal podium during the playing of the U.S. national anthem at the 1972 Olympics 

They stood together on the top spot of the medal podium: two Americans in Munich, Germany, casual, somewhat ambivalent to the fact that one of them — Vince Matthews — took gold while the other — Wayne Collett — won silver in the 400 meters at the troubled 1972 games. Hands on hips, arms crossed and even twirling their medals at times, the display by the two African-American athletes would eventually be known as “The Forgotten Protest.”

It came four years after the profound black power salutes of John Carlos and Tommie Smith in Mexico City. However, the subtle protest by the American duo in 1972 was overshadowed by the murders of 11 members of Israel’s delegation, following a terrorist attack in the Olympic Village.

Though the actions of Collett and Matthews were not as pronounced as the ones at the 1968 Games, there were ramifications for both athletes. Their Olympics were over after the International Olympic Committee banned the two men for the display the IOC and others described as “disgusting.” IOC president Avery Brundage was livid and flexed his muscle with the decision to ban the pair from the remainder of the Games, drawing support from some and anger and disappointment from others. Both runners also would be banned from further IOC and United States Olympic Committee events.

Though Matthews initially denied he was making a protest, at least publicly, he later stated their actions on the podium were directed toward the U.S. coaching staff for the way Matthews, specifically, felt he was being treated. Collett, however, wasn’t as clouded with his comments, leading many to believe it was a civil rights issue.

Collett, who went on to become a lawyer and also worked in real estate, died in 2010 at age 60 after a bout with cancer. In 1992, he told the Los Angeles Times: “I love America. I just don’t think it’s lived up to its promise. I’m not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time.”

Matthews, a member of the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame, is an artist.

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