Nike doubles down on Colin Kaepernick with new sneaker bearing his image

There’s no doubt where Nike stands.
There’s no doubt where Nike stands.
Image: Nike
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On the heel tab of a sneaker released by Nike today is Colin Kaepernick’s unmistakable image. All but the most immediately recognizable features are stripped away, transforming it into an icon, not too dissimilar from how Nike turned a silhouette of Michael Jordan in air into its famed Jumpman logo. There’s a “K” on the tongue as well, and a “7” tag referencing Kaepernick’s former jersey number.

The shoe is yet another clever mix of activism and marketing by Nike, which is doubling down on its support of the embattled NFL player—former NFL player at this point—about a year after it roused controversy by featuring Kaepernick in a major ad campaign. Though Nike was reportedly on the brink of ending its sponsorship deal with Kaepernick back in 2017, the company has since made a point of publicly backing him.

Colin Kaepernick's silhouette stares out from the heel tab of Nike's new sneaker
Image: Nike

The sneaker, a version of Nike’s popular Air Force 1, quickly sold out in adult sizes on Nike’s site and its SNKRS app after dropping this morning. Nike also released child and toddler sizes, and launched the sneaker first in North America, with global releases to follow.

The shoe comes about a month after Kaepernick once again made headlines for a new confrontation with the NFL. Since kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and other injustices against black Americans, the quarterback has effectively been shut out of the league. In November, having finally settled his lawsuit against the NFL, Kaepernick was meant to take part in a league-approved workout demonstrating his readiness to return to play, until a dispute over terms led him to hold his own alternate workout instead.

Nike’s decision to put Kaepernick’s image on a sneaker is likely to attract criticism from Kaepernick’s vocal detractors. But like the company’s prior decision to include Kaepernick in an ad campaign, it’s unlikely to hurt Nike. The company’s core audience is made up of young, racially and ethnically diverse shoppers living predominately in big cities—the demographic more likely to side with Kaepernick in his protest. The shoe is also a limited release and won’t land in front of as many eyes as Nike’s commercial did.