Day 6

'He doesn't need the NFL': How Colin Kaepernick controls his narrative

Colin Kaepernick is starting his second NFL season without a job. But thanks to a viral Nike ad, he is still making his presence felt.

'Nike knows that Colin Kaepernick is much more popular where he's at now than he was as a football player'

A new Nike ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (Nike)
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The NFL season kicked off earlier this week. But while Colin Kaepernick is still without a job, the football quarterback is making his presence known.

During the season opener between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles, Kaepernick was featured in a Nike ad that ran during commercial breaks.

Two years ago, Kaepernick became famous — and infamous — for taking a knee during the national anthem in protest against racial inequality and police violence.

The former San Francisco 49ers player ​hasn't played a game since the 2016 season. Because of that, he's now suing the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep him unemployed.

But while much has been said about why a company like Nike would wade into the controversy surrounding Kaepernick, the quarterback himself hasn't said much about his plans for the future, and what he hopes to accomplish with the ad and his ongoing activism.  

Evan F. Moore, a sports feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times, is one of the few people who has interviewed Kaepernick. He spoke to Day 6 host Brent Bambury about what this new Nike ad could mean for the football player's future.

In this 2016 file photo, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, former quarterback Colin Kaepernick and former safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Brent Bambury: What signal do you think Colin Kapernick is sending this week by being the face and voice of this commercial?

Evan F. Moore: That he doesn't need the NFL. This is someone who took what he's learned from the NFL and is probably OK with not playing again. It's not a money thing for him.

BB: He's not someone that likes to talk about his activism with the media. This week, the New York Times wrote an article that called his response to everything that's been happening a "deafening silence" because he hasn't spoken about it. Why do you think he stays as quiet as he does?  

EM: When I spoke with him, he told me he read an article I wrote for Rolling Stone two years ago. The article is basically about what journalism and sports writing really is in terms of demographics — white, male [and] suburban.

When you have that group discussing black athletes — particularly when they step out of line in terms of their activism or whatever else — how many times have we seen reporters and other sports writers still call what Kaepernick did a national anthem protest?

Him, Eric Reid and others who engaged in some of the protests have said over and over again that they're not protesting national anthems, they're not protesting police or the military. I mean, look at who controls that narrative.

He's controlling his narrative as much as how white sports writers control the narratives of black athletes.

New York Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, second from right, with the help of Kirsten John Foy from the National Action Network, holds a jersey with Colin Kaepernick's name on the back during a rally of civil rights activists outside of the NFL headquarters. (Ralph Russo/Associated Press)

BB: When you look at this ad, the final line is, "Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything." When you talked to Colin Kaepernick, did it seem like he was someone who was prepared to end his career over this issue?

EM: Well, he's not the one who ended his career. At this point, it appears it's the NFL that's trying to end his career. It feels like, from talking to him, that he was aware that he may not play football anymore.

I'm based in Chicago and I grew up watching Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the [Chicago] Bulls team. Craig Hodges — who was one of the league's best players at the time when he spoke on those issues — he's a precautionary tale. This generation is seeing a precautionary tale with Colin Kaepernick.

The thing is, this is more about dollars than it is about social justice.- Evan F. Moore, sports feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times

BB: If Colin Kaepernick never plays again, what does this ad tell us about what his post-NFL brand is going to be?

EM: Seems like he's going to keep doing the things he's doing.

Here in Chicago, he donated money to quite a few organizations that are doing things in our communities here. And you see what's reported about Chicago in terms of gun violence and systemic issues — he's trying to fill in the gaps that people in other areas, particularly here in Chicago, don't even care to deal with.

To some people, he's a hero in football and to others, he's a hero in terms of his activism. I think that down the line, he realizes that, 'Hey if I don't play, I can do other things.'

Colin Kaepernick hasn't played a game since the 2016 season. Now, he's suing the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep him unemployed. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

BB: Do you think Nike is taking a risk with their relationship with the NFL by elevating Kaepernick in this ad?

EM: Nike, they've been through this before. Remember, they held onto Tiger Woods after his troubles. And Michael Vick, they did bring him back when he got out of jail, so, they have a history of taking on polarizing athletes.

Compare it to how people looked at rap and hip hop back in the '80s, they knew it was polarizing. But when they saw the dollars made off it with concerts and record sales, you just couldn't deny it. 

You just can't deny that [Kaepernick's] a popular figure among a lot of Americans, whether you like it or not. 

BB: Is Nike saying if it comes down to the NFL vs Colin Kaepernick, we're betting on Kaepernick?

EM: The thing is, this is more so about dollars than it is about social justice and Nike knows that Colin Kaepernick is much more popular where he's at now than he was a football player.


This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. To hear the full conversation with Evan F. Moore, download our podcast or click listen above.