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Colin Kaepernick's appearance in a new Nike ad campaign is prompting both vocal support and angry backlash. Kaepernick is the former San Francisco 49er who two years ago famously started protesting racial injustice by taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem. Nike shares fell more than 3 percent today. President Trump, in an interview with The Daily Caller said the ad campaign sends a terrible message. Trump also said companies get to make their own decisions and that is, quote, "what this country is all about."
NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports that Nike is taking a calculated business bet.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Nike's decision to feature Kaepernick as part of its revamped "Just Do It" ad campaign sparked controversy from the outset. Within the first 24 hours, social media mentions of Nike spiked well over a thousand percent from the previous day according to analysis from Talkwalker.
Kaepernick's role in the new campaign adds fresh fuel to a longstanding controversy. President Trump has repeatedly criticized players for taking a knee. Nike's ad reinvigorates support in Kaepernick's corner among those defending his right to peaceful protest. But others took offense at the endorsement and posted videos of Nike shoes going up in flames.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Not only am I burning my favorite pair of Nikes. You're burning your sales.
NOGUCHI: Wading into controversy is nothing new for Nike. David Carter is executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
DAVID CARTER: Nike likes this attention. They've always reveled in it, and they have not been shy about using athletes' controversial opinions and positioning to drive their value.
NOGUCHI: Nike has done this by positioning itself as supportive of athletes from all walks of life. But, he says, the stakes have changed with this campaign.
CARTER: I think what's different now is that we are in a hyper-politicized environment where they may have been given a pass by consumers and fans in the past. But now in this era, it's going to be a little bit more challenging for them. People are going to be watching more carefully.
NOGUCHI: Kaepernick started taking a knee during pregame national anthems in 2016, then became a free agent at the end of that season. He has remained unsigned. Last year, Kaepernick sued the NFL and team owners for allegedly colluding to keep him out of a job. Nike has a lucrative, longstanding contract with the NFL to supply team uniforms. The NFL did not respond to requests for comment, but Carter says it's unlikely the league will retaliate against Nike.
CARTER: It would take even more attention away from what happens on the field, and it would provide more oxygen for this controversy. And so I think they've got to be very careful how they go about it.
NOGUCHI: Matt Powell is a sports industry adviser with the NPD Group. He says Nike's making a business bet and that in fact the campaign will resonate with its core customers.
MATT POWELL: Gen-Z and millennial consumers really want brands and retailers to take visible and vocal stands on social issues. And I don't think there's going to be any significant backlash.
NOGUCHI: He says Nike's independent streak has played well for its business in the past. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.