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Johnston-Yurgine: Kaepernick controversy won’t end anytime soon

September 16, 2018

Ken: Big screen HD TV and professional sports are an ideal match. Moreover, the technical quality of coverage and commentary has kept pace with the viewings. I can sit at home out of the weather and away from the crowd and see every action detail. Hockey has gone from being too fast for satisfying TV to being primo for TV viewing; a good view plus good commentary reveals the complexity of baseball strategy; when the Bulls play, you can see the subtle push-off foul when even the ref doesn’t. And NFL football makes the best boob tubing of all — — multiple cameras including robos, instant shifts from wide to close shots, replays and slo-mo, and perhaps best of all, capturing the sounds of contact. For me though, some of the attraction of pro football has diminished lately. First it was reported that repeated concussions had a cumulative effect and were apt to cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy in retired NFL players. A report in 2017 detected signs of CTE in 100 of 110 retired players. So the league changed the rules banning tackling using the helmet, notwithstanding the fact that NFL defensive players have been coached to “put your hat on him” since pee wee days. This year I have tuned into just one preseason game and watched the first three plays all end in penalties, so I changed the channel. Add to that a new issue that for many is distasteful we have the legacy of Colin Kaepernick. NFL players become political.

Joe: Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers NFL quarterback, presents an interesting story. His career (at least so far as throwing footballs) ended after kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial and social injustice. It inspired a wave of protests, both on and off the fields of the NFL. It now appears, however, that this silent gesture will be paying off financially for Colin. Nike has announced that Kaepernick will be part of a major advertising “Just Do It” campaign. We now see the face of Colin in advertisements with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Does all of this mean that more and more athletes will use their platforms to address social issues? Also, is Nike’s decision likely to be good for business? I noted that after they made the announcement, their stock price fell about 3 percent.

Ken: Kaepernick’s protest spread such that last year about half the players were in one way or another demonstrating. President Trump further polarized and politicized the issue by tweeting harsh criticism of those players. Apparently as a consequence, NFL viewership dipped slightly but league revenue increased nevertheless due to several factors. Multiple internet services have contracted with the NFL to offer mobile streaming for games, most notable is Verizon, providing streaming free to customers; Fantasy Football which is based on individual NFL player’s performance has almost 60 million participating fans; sports betting is now legal in eight states — — a bill to legalize it has been introduced in the Illinois Legislature. Will the sports shoe business be similarly resilient?

Joe: Nike is the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes, with the vast majority of their shoes being made in factories in China and other Asian countries. Imagine young Chinese women being paid as little as possible working 12 hours a day, six days a week sitting at a table in a sweatshop in China stitching fancy Air Jordan sneakers for the American market. You ask if the sports shoe business will be resilient. Nike is in the business to sell shoes and the brand is valued at $30 billion. Air Jordan 10s are listed on Amazon for about $200 to $500 a pair. They reportedly cost Nike about $16 a pair. Nike sells about 25 pairs of shoes per second. When you look at those numbers, and since Nike targets and focuses on runners and progressive young athletes (men and women) who see nothing wrong with Kaepernick’s position, do you seriously think Nike is concerned and upset when overweight guys who probably have never worn a sneaker in a YMCA or on a basketball court, politicize the issue and tweet harsh criticism? I might add that 2018 is the year of the Horse which means being upright and fast. A good running shoe is important when young people gallop and ramble around, but I digress. If people do not like Nike’s position they can boycott Nike products. Let me ask you this. Do you think Nike would survive if they hired American workers to make the shoes that they sell in America? Their CEO would have to take a pay cut. According tto CNN Money, CEO Mark Parker, of Nike, made $47.6 million in 2016.

Ken: First of all Nike stock ticked up, Sept. 10, to a new high closure. All that you say is true, and to be concise, the Nike decision to base an ad campaign around a controversial figure is shrewd and calculated, aiming to sell more product in a highly competitive environment. That’s much like all the TV networks’ decisions in polarized times to go with late night comedians who tell one joke only — — targeting Donald Trump. The jokesters get one side excited and reap more viewers than if they stayed in the political middle, despite spurning half of their potential viewers. Likewise, the shoe company hopes to sell more kicks to the jazzed left half than they would to the uninspired whole. Moreover, the shoe company is on more solid footing than the NFL would be if they endorsed, albeit with reservations, the Kaepernick play because those old fat working guys probably make up more than half of the pro football audience. As of now, it looks like the protesting players are going to push back against the league and the owners keeping the issue alive. For Nike, it remains to be seen how strongly they push the ad campaign using the visage of Colin Kaepernick. There’s no end for either in sight.

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