It has been four years since Colin Kaepernick last suited up in the NFL. The general consensus is that the 32-year-old quarterback has been blackballed from the world’s richest sports league for kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to police brutality and racial inequality. Kaepernick and the NFL settled a collusion lawsuit in 2019 where terms were not disclosed.
But the general public thinks the NFL owes Kaepernick something else. A new Harris Poll found 61% of Americans think Kaepernick deserves an apology from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Harris surveyed more than 1,000 people last week after a group of NFL players put out a powerful video to challenge the league to condemn racism and support black players. A day later, Goodell released his own video on Instagram and said, “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” Goodell’s mea culpa failed to mention Kaepernick by name.
The NFL got middling grades overall from the public. Two-thirds of respondents said Goodell’s statement felt insincere and was done just for publicity,while 53% felt it was “too little too late.” The poll was conducted ahead of the NFL’s pledge of $250 million over ten years to “support the battle against the ongoing and historic injustices faced by African-Americans.”
There is also a contingent of fans that don’t like the NFL’s recent reversal. Thirty-one percent of Harris Poll respondents opposed Goodell’s statement. President Donald Trump expressed his displeasure with Goodell via Twitter, where he wrote, “Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?”
The global protests that started recently after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis have helped shift the perception of Kaepernick and the brands that do business with him.
Nike highlighted the quarterback in its 2018 ad campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” slogan. The ad angered some consumers who didn’t like Kaepernick’s politics. It spurred hashtags like #BoycottNike and #JustBurnIt. The ad tagline spoke to Kap’s activism: “Believe in something. Even if it means losing everything.”
Harris revisited that ad last week. In a 2018 poll, 21% of respondents vowed to boycott or stop buying Nike products after the marketing campaign was released. In the latest poll, that proportion dropped by a third, to 14%, with the biggest shift in seniors (from 34% “don’t buy/boycott” to 18%) and conservatives (from 41% to 24%).
Nike’s reputation with the general public has strengthened over the past two years, with 54% holding a positive opinion of the $40-billion-in-revenue sportswear giant, up six percentage points. Under Armour is down eight points, to 40%, while Adidas is down a tick to 51%. Nike’s brand is strongest among young men at a 66% positive rate.
The Swoosh has stepped up its activism this month. It pledged $40 million to support the black community in the U.S., and Nike’s Jordan Brand, in conjunction with NBA legend Michael Jordan, promised an additional $100 million over ten years to support organizations dedicated to racial equality, social justice and education access. Last week, new CEO John Donahoe announced that Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., would be an annual paid holiday for Nike’s U.S. employees moving forward.