As Colin Kaepernick watched from the apparel giant’s headquarters in Oregon, Nike aired its ad featuring the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback during the NFL season opener Thursday night.
The spot highlighting the national anthem protester aired during the first ad break in the third quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles-Atlanta Falcons game, which started with no overt demonstrations by players during the national anthem.
A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Kaepernick, who is locked in a collusion grievance with the league, was watching the ad’s first television airing on NBC at an event held at Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the visit were not announced publicly.
Still, some attendees posted accounts of the visit on social media, including video of Kaepernick speaking to a crowd Thursday several hours before the ad aired.
“You have to think beyond what you see around you,” said Kaepernick, who hasn’t spoken to the media publicly since opting out of his contract with San Francisco and becoming a free agent in 2017.
“You have to see the future that you believe in and that you want not just for yourself but all the people you see globally,” he said.
Kaepernick’s deal with Nike for the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign was the most polarizing issue in sports this week. Some fans responded to Kaepernick’s sponsorship deal by burning gear with Nike’s signature swoosh logo or saying they no longer will purchase Nike products.
“I don’t like what Nike did. I don’t think it’s appropriate what they did,” President Donald Trump said in an interview with Fox News before a rally in Montana. “I honor the flag. I honor our national anthem and most of the people in this country feel the same way.”
There were no clear-cut protests as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played before the game Thursday night with both teams on the field and the song broadcast nationally.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Michael Bennett were on the sideline, and neither really demonstrated during the song. Jenkins and Bennett regularly have either knelt or stayed off the field during the anthem to protest social injustice and racial inequality. They have been among the most vocal protesters since Kaepernick began similar demonstrations in 2016. Jenkins stood with teammates while Bennett wandered behind them near the Eagles bench and adjusted his equipment.
Jenkins said he thinks players should shift the focus of the debate away from the anthem itself and back to the issues they are trying to highlight.
“I think there’s a huge need for us to turn the attention to not only the issues, but what players are actually doing in their communities to promote change,” he said. “We’re trying to move past the rhetoric of what’s right or what’s wrong in terms of the anthem and really focus on the systematic issues that are plaguing our communities.”
No Falcons players were absent from the sideline, and none has protested in the recent past.
The anthem has been a particularly thorny issue for the NFL, whose television viewership has fallen sharply since Kaepernick’s first protest in 2016. Ratings for Thursday night’s game were the lowest for a season opener in a decade.
Kaepernick’s grievance against the league and team owners accuses owners of colluding to keep him off any roster. An arbitrator gave Kaepernick an incremental victory by allowing the challenge to go to trial.
The NFL and players union still haven’t agreed on an anthem policy for the 2018 season. Owners approved a rule requiring players to stand if they are on the sideline during the anthem and allowing them to stay off the field if they wish, but the league and the NFLPA put that on hold in July.
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