I was not an athletic girl. When Nike started their Just Do It campaign, I was 11 years old. Their rally cry seemed to be one of “extreme jockage.” It spoke to personal insecurities and gym class hecklers. I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t unfit. It’s not that I didn’t try… but geez people, calm down! Just Do It wasn’t a phrase that motivated me. However, I did always like the ads from an idea/direction/cinematography standpoint, even if I wasn’t moved by the message. But, as I grew older, and matured a bit, I noticed that Nike seemed to be maturing, too—becoming less tone deaf and changing with the times. Turns out no one likes the hecklers. The tone is now more ‘keep at it, you can do it... just do it… you’ll see’. Less hyped up high school gym teacher, and more intune life coach. that, I can get behind.
When their 30th anniversary campaign came out, this shift came through tenfold. Just Do It means so much when stated in this new political climate. Never in my life has it been so clear that if you want a change, you have to be an active part. You can’t sit back and think someone else will take the reins. If you don’t stand up, who will? If you don’t say ‘this isn’t normal’, who’s going to? Who is going to lead the way? You see something you don’t like and you think you can make a difference: Just do it. Don’t wait. Do it. That is the heart of what Colin Kaepernick has done and I say bravo… but like the girl who hated the “extreme jockage”, I didn’t always view Kaepernick’s actions this way.
I should confess that I’ve been a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan since I was seven years old. They used to win - a lot! Then they lost - a lot! Then Colin Kaepernick came to town and unseated Alex Smith, the number-one draft pick who did nothing spectacular for the 49ers, but Kap did. He went straight to the Super Bowl in his rookie year. But, people still didn’t like him because of story after story of how he was boastful and alienated teammates with his bravado. He seemed to be out for himself, rather than the team. Coach Harbaugh loved him, and people didn’t really love Harbaugh. It was messy.
When Kaepernick started kneeling, I think many thought, “He’s trying to get attention.” The “look at me” star of the 49ers was up to something for himself. Based on his history, that’s what it looked like. And that’s what I thought. I remember telling someone, “I agree with what he’s protesting against, but there’s a better way to do it.”
Then I stopped. I stopped thinking about how I wasn’t a fan of Kaepernick, and thought about what it was that he was doing and why. He donated millions of his earning. He clearly wasn’t kneeling as a PR stunt, because when the press turned bad, he didn’t stop.
People want to keep politics out of football and have it just be fun. But what’s not fun, is the fact that African Americans are often treated systematically differently than Caucasians. For most of the men on that field, that’s not something they have the privilege of ignoring. Martin Luther King once said that he was gravely disappointed in the white moderate - “the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” People willing to ignore injustice to keep that status quo and ignore conflict are kicking the can down the road. They’re not helping. They’re not making change. They’re not making anything better. Kaepernick had the confidence and conviction to do something - to care about justice.
He’s constantly reiterating that his actions are not anti-military. His peaceful protest is about shining a bright light on the fact that this country oppresses people of colour. Many people don’t want to face that, or listen to it, or try to heal it. So, they got angry and demanded that he should be fired. And he was. And has not been hired again, even though he’s undeniably a better quarterback than many in the NFL right now.
Nike supported the fact that Kaepernick had to choose: turn your back on what you believe in, or lose the career - the dream - you spent your entire life working towards. Kap didn’t turn back. And Nike stood up. Nike showed they’re a brand with personality and a moral compass (which may not apply to child labour… but that’s for another day). Great ideas that get people talking is what advertising IS. It’s not just selling. It’s showing who the brand is, what they stand for, and what they care about.
Just Do It isn’t just about more push-ups and ignoring your shin splints. It’s about not being complacent. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about giving a fuck.
Sara Eolin is owner and managing director of Rocket Film.