Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand for the US national anthem to protest the ongoing police shootings of black Americans. So it makes sense that police would have strong feelings over Nike’s decision to feature the former NFL quarterback among the athletes in its new campaign.
Police, though, are not a monolith. After two US police organizations denounced the Kaepernick ad, an association of black officers has responded with a letter to Nike of its own, criticizing the police condemnation and voicing its support of both Kaepernick and Nike.
The first police statements critical of the Nike campaign came on Sept. 4, the day after Kaepernick shared that he would appear in an ad. In a press release, the National Fraternal Order of Police called it an “insult,” and warned that its members and many other Americans would make their buying decisions with that in mind.
A more scathing response came in the form of a letter (pdf) to Nike CEO Mark Parker from the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO). Written by its president, Michael McHale, it begins, “On behalf of the more than 241,000 law enforcement officers represented by our Association across the country, I write to you to condemn in the strongest possible terms your selection of Colin Kaepernick for Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ ad campaign.” It continues by calling Kaepernick “a shallow dilettante seeking to gain notoriety by disrespecting the flag for which so many Americans have fought and died,” and adds that Nike’s choice to include him “perpetuates the falsehood that police are racist and aiming to use force against African Americans and persons of color.”
But the National Black Police Association (NBPA) took issue with NAPO’s comments to Nike. The group, which aids, represents, and trains black law enforcement, replied with its own letter to Nike, written by its national chairperson, Sonia Y.W. Pruitt. After saying they learned of NAPO’s letter “with great dismay,” she writes:
NAPO believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s choice to openly protest issues surrounding police brutality, racism and social injustices in this country makes him anti-police. On the contrary, theNBPA believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s stance is in direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for—the protection of a people, their human rights, their dignity, their safety, and their rights as American citizens. NAPO has shown an adeptness at maintaining the police status quo and the tone in the their letter further validates Mr. Kaepernick’s concerns, as it undermines the trust that is needed by law enforcement in order for the profession to maintain its legitimacy. That NAPO has chosen this matter to take a stance, only perpetuates the narrative that police are racist, with no regard, acknowledgement, respect, or understanding of the issues and concerns of the African-American community.
The Intercept has posted the NBPA’s complete letter here.
There are approximately 104,000 black police in the US, according to the NBPA. Not all are formal members, but it offers its services to all black police. ”As black officers we live in two worlds,” Pruitt told the Washington Post (paywall). “On the one hand we’re police officers, and then on the other hand we’re members of the African American community so we’re well versed in both. Which is why we can understand why Mr. Kaepernick took a knee.”
While NAPO called for a boycott of Nike, the NBPA concluded its letter by saying its members will likely be buying and wearing plenty of Nike products.