In late April 2018, Mark King, president of Adidas’ North American Division, told the New York Daily News that the company is interested in signing free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to an endorsement deal. The only condition to this interest is that Adidas is not willing to sign him until he has been signed by an NFL team. Given Adidas’ recent campaign to promote creative leadership and the NFL’s blackballing of Kaepernick, the disingenuous offer to Kaepernick is contradictory to the new direction of Adidas, and has the ability to damage their standing in the eyes of consumers.
Colin Kaepernick made headlines the entire 2017 NFL season for kneeling during the National Anthem in protest to the systematic oppression of black people in America and police brutality. After the season ended, he opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers, becoming a free agent. Since then, despite Kaepernick’s above average NFL resume, he has not received any legitimate interest from NFL teams. Far inferior performing quarterbacks and players with criminal histories have been signed by teams, but Kaepernick, who remains outspoken, has not.
In December 2017, Adidas launched a new chapter within its Here to Create campaign called “Calling All Creators,” which is a call for creativity and leadership in sports. In support of this campaign Adidas released a series of commercials featuring 25 Adidas sponsored talents, such as Von Miller, Damian Lillard, Pusha T, Candace Parker, Pharrell Williams and David Beckham. The common theme amongst those in the commercial is they are all recognized as creative leaders within their sport or industry. Further research on the campaign shows that Adidas is promoting athletes who use creativity as their difference maker. Doesn’t Colin Kaepernick, who creatively combined his First Amendment free speech rights and his platform as a professional athlete to bring national awareness to issues affecting the black community, fit this mold?It is apparent that although Adidas is presenting itself as embracing creative leadership, it does not truly embrace creativity in all realms. Due to the combination of mass sensitivity towards his decision to kneel during the National Anthem and his platform as a professional athlete, Colin Kaepernick cleverly raised national awareness of the systematic oppression of black people in America. His namesake would certainly help Adidas make sales, evidenced by the huge spike in his jersey sales since he began his protest in 2016. Dangling an endorsement offer on the contingency that Kaepernick is signed only hurts Adidas’ image, not Kaepernick’s.
It will be interesting to watch how Adidas further navigates the prospect of signing Colin Kaepernick or the broader issue of black civil rights. Further contradiction may cause the company to lose customers or to give the impression that Adidas’ leaders oppose police reform or the development of a more equal social society.