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Nike campaign signals change in shoe politics

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Associated Press

A pair of shoes are set aflame with a cigarette lighter, captured on video and shared widely online to protest a political statement made by the manufacturer.

The New Balance shoes were burned by their owners two years ago after a spokeswoman indicated the company’s support for President Donald Trump’s trade policies.

Nike now finds itself in a similar position on the other side of the political spectrum as some customers cut up its products or burn them because of the company’s decision to make Colin Kaepernick the face of its “Just Do It” 30th anniversary campaign.

With the Kaepernick campaign, Nike is embracing activism and racial justice at a time when shoe companies can no longer avoid the nation’s political division. After years of building billion-dollar brands around sports celebrities, shoe and apparel makers now find themselves flashpoints in the political, racial and cultural clashes surrounding the Trump administration.

Nike took this route as its biggest representatives – most notably LeBron James and Serena Williams – have spoken out about police shootings of African-American men and problems facing the black community.

Those same athletes are increasingly using their shoes as a form of expression. James’ “Equality” Nike signature shoe was unveiled earlier this year, with the word emblazoned across the back of the shoes. Steph Curry has worn a Barack Obama-themed shoe.

NBA players in recent years have worn shoes with messages of “R.I.P. Trayvon Martin” and “Sideline Racism” and images of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Such statements could become more common next season after the NBA relaxed the rules over the types of shoes players can wear.

“I stand with Nike, every day, all day,” James said Tuesday at a Nike fashion show and awards ceremony in New York.

Companies and major sports leagues had been careful not to stray into real politics, famously symbolized by Michael Jordan, who reportedly said Republicans buy shoes, too. While Jordan and others in his era were thrilled to have lucrative shoe deals, the current generation is going farther by using their sneaker deals as a platform to promote social justice.