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Nike got it so right ... and so wrong ... all in one ad

September 7, 2018

Even the most hardened cynic, the most miserable muttering misanthrope, would, if even subconsciously, subscribe to the promise of hopes the dreams, the steadfast belief in a better tomorrow.

This — yes, this — is the core of Nike’s most recent “Just Do It” ad, narrated by Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who dropped to a knee two years ago during the national anthem, protesting social injustice and police brutality.

The ad, well publicized all week, officially aired during Thursday Night Football. And how sad, really, that such an inspiring, uplifting and necessary message gets lost amid the rhetoric, the truth inaudible above the roar.

The words of the ad:

“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do ... good. Stay that way. Because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult. It’s a compliment.

“Don’t try to be the fastest runner in your school or the fastest in the world. Be the fastest ever. Don’t picture yourself wearing OBJ’s jersey. Picture him wearing yours. Don’t settle for homecoming queen or linebacker. Do both. Lose 120 pounds and become an iron man after beating a brain tumor. Don’t believe you have to be like anybody to be somebody.

“If you’re born a refugee (soccer phenom Alphonso Davies) don’t let it stop you from playing soccer for the national team at age 16. Don’t become the best basketball player on the planet (LeBron James). Be bigger than basketball (alluding to the “I Promise” school James opened). Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.

“If you have only one hand, don’t just watch football. Play it. If you’re a girl from Compton (Serena Williams) don’t just become a tennis player. Become the greatest athlete ever. Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.”

Nike got it so right.

A wondrous message to inspire us, not just our kids, but anybody who believes in themselves among pervasive doubt, that if dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.

Nike got it so wrong.

Not by using Colin Kaepernick. But by linking Kaepernick with the line “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

There is the line delineating the line Nike crossed.

Kaepernick, no longer in the NFL, did not sacrifice everything. He’s still alive. Others before him, who died in the name of the flag and our freedom, sacrificed everything. This is where the message gets muddied, where the rhetoric raucously overwhelms the meaning of the words.

The ad was beautifully written.

It just needed a better editor.

Now I get this much: A considerable portion of the populace view Kaepernick’s mere presence in the ad as the blow torch meeting the Exxon truck. Understandable, but shortsighted. Kaepernick inspired meaningful conversation in this country regardless of whether you agree with his methods.

Heck, I can look locally here to a basketball game and a dodge ball game New London police officers played with kids from the middle school not long ago that would not have been as significant had Kaepernick not provided such a graphic backdrop. The kids and cops in our city have a better understanding of each other today in part because Kaepernick intensified the message.

Nike’s ad would resonate just as powerfully without the “sacrifice everything” part. Nike officials should be savvy enough to realize that families of fallen military personnel, who truly understand the meaning of “sacrificing everything” don’t need to see a polarizing figure remind them of their grief. It’s unnecessarily insensitive.

The result: Instead of people focusing on the inspiring message — believe in yourself — the ad has become another referendum on patriotism. The words of the ad are not about patriotism. They are about the power of dreams and the promise of tomorrow, delivered through athletes whose celebrity resonates with kids.

It’s not much different than the dismissal blessing Rev. Ranjit Mathews of St. James Church in New London shares with his parishioners:

“May God give you grace never to sell yourself short. To risk something big for something good. And grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.”

Instead, the residual effect of the ad, in part, comes through the words of my friend Kenya McIntear, who posted the following to Facebook on Thursday:

“Tiger Woods got busted for sexing every woman in a 10-mile radius of him and a DUI. Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted more than one woman and Kobe Bryant was accused of rape. Y’all wore the heck out of your Nikes. A man with no such record or incidents simply says ‘I will no longer be silent about police brutality in this country and peacefully protest it’ and y’all start  burning Nike stuff and say you’ll never wear it again. LOL.”

Think about that for a minute.

How did we go from “believe in yourself” to burning footwear?

A bad editor.

And the band plays on.

All the wrong notes.

Again.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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