Up Next


The boldest statement Adidas could make is to sign Colin Kaepernick

Now more than ever, black people need to be reassured there is a genuine appetite for black voices, and not just a superficial need for black faces

To write this column, I re-watched a short film released by Adidas last December that was appropriately titled, Calling All Creators, a stylish ad campaign that featured some of the most remarkable influencers in the world gathered around a table discussing creativity, progress and inspiration.

A stunning list of people appear in the film, which has amassed nearly 40 million views on YouTube — Lionel Messi, Pharrell Williams, Pusha T, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Damian Lillard, and Von Miller, among others. In fact, if I named all the people in the campaign, it would probably take up another paragraph.

But you know who would have been a great choice for the film?

Colin Kaepernick.

Mark King, the president of Adidas North America division, said this week that if Colin Kaepernick were signed by an NFL team, his company wouldn’t hesitate to sign him as a brand ambassador.

“We love athletes that have a platform to make the world a better place,” King said. “If they’re an activist in a way that brings attention to something that moves the world forward, even if there’s controversy at that moment, we’re really interested in those athletes, because I think it represents the world today.”

So why wait on NFL teams, who, so far, have shown practically no interest in signing Kaepernick?

The boldest statement Adidas could make is to sign Kaepernick now. Forget about the NFL, since it seems doubtful that Kaepernick will ever play again.

One of the messages in the Adidas short film was that the brand aimed to be a space for “those who are obsessed with progress.”

Hmm. That sounds exactly like Kaepernick, who began his protest because he was disgusted by the lack of justice when unarmed black people are killed by police, and this country’s continued embrace of institutional racism.

Amid all the noise that surrounds Kaepernick, it’s often forgotten that while there are plenty of people who sadly view Kaepernick as a villain, there’s an equally large number of people who support him and are inspired by his dedication to social justice. And many of those people would love to buy Adidas products as a way to continue their support.

Now more than ever, black people need to be reassured that there is a genuine appetite for black voices, and not just a superficial need for black faces.

I’m not trying to commercialize Kaepernick’s beliefs — we’ve seen how dangerous that can be with the way Martin Luther King Jr.’s message has been perverted and spun over the years — but imagine the impact if people of color saw that not all corporations are scared to show open support of black folks who discuss issues that might make some of their consumers uncomfortable.

Kanye West is brash, outspoken and polarizing, and his personality was key in resurrecting Adidas. He and Kaep on the same team seems ideal.

Now it’s unsure if a relationship with Adidas is even possible since Nike released a statement to USA Today affirming that Kaepernick is currently one of their athletes. While details of their contract with Kaepernick aren’t publicly known, they haven’t done much with Kaepernick since he began his protest in 2016.

Given that Kaepernick has laid low, it’s possible that he wanted it that way. It’s also possible that Nike not amplifying Kaepernick has to do with the fact that in his last year in the NFL, Kaepernick played for a San Francisco 49ers team that wasn’t very good.

Unfortunately, there are countless examples of vocal black athletes being ostracized and losing everything — jobs, income, or worse, their dignity — as soon as they start speaking truths that hit a little too close to home. And shamefully, the majority of them are only remembered fondly after it’s proven they were on the right side of history.

But during this time especially, it’s important that black people are reassured they matter to the people who can write the biggest checks. We have black men being hauled out of Starbucks by police for minding their business, a Syracuse fraternity suspended after recording racist videos, and a viral video that shows two black servicewomen being verbally and physically attacked by a white woman after a dispute over a parking space — and that’s just in the last few days. The threat and vulnerability people of color feel right now is real. And if companies want to show sincere respect for their black customers, that means doing more than just using black folks’ talents to peddle more products to black audiences. If you want black dollars, maybe try being invested in black issues.

Sure, some will counter that they don’t want to think about police brutality or institutional racism when deciding to buy a pair of sneakers. Well, most people of color don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing when race matters, because for us, it matters all the time.

Adidas didn’t change its fortunes by being safe, so why not continue to be bold? Because as Pusha T said in Calling All Creators, sometimes, “it’s about making a statement.”

Jemele Hill is a Senior Correspondent and Columnist for ESPN and The Undefeated.