Nike Just Did It 

So, are you ready to start boycotting University of Memphis football and basketball games? Gonna burn your Tigers jersey? How about the Grizzlies? You ready to stay home this season? Turn off the television? Get rid of that sweet throwback Memphis Sounds uni?

You'd better be ready to do just that — in addition to staying away from FedExForum and the Liberty Bowl — if you're one of those people who's upset with the Nike company. Nike has contracts with all the teams you love in this town.

And why would you be upset with Nike? Well, unless you've been living in a cocoon the past few days, you know that the athletic super-corporation has launched a new national ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who inspired the ongoing player protest movement of kneeling during the National Anthem to make a statement against police brutality and racial injustice.

Because of this audacious corporate move, many irate owners of Nike apparel have been burning their Nike sweat socks — and presumably throwing away their expensive Jordan shoes and destroying all their $75 souvenir team jerseys. Though that may be a bridge too far.

It's a real dilemma for fans who hate the Anthem protests — and the guy who started the movement — no matter their favorite sport. For example, the NFL is contracted with Nike for uniforms and apparel for all 32 teams through 2028. Nike also has the NBA's apparel contract, and that of most of the top-tier universities, including Ole Miss and that orange-uniformed outfit over in Knoxville. Whatcha gonna do, Landsharks? Will it come down to MAGA versus Hotty Toddy?

This will get interesting on several fronts. How will the NFL's mostly uber-conservative, millionaire team-owners reckon with their hired guns on the field wearing equipment provided by a company that has thrown in with the athletes, rather than the owners? How do you think Dallas Cowboys owner and MAGA-Trump fan Jerry Jones is going to handle this little development? Break out the popcorn.

And, of course, it will get even more interesting once the grand Tweeter-in-Chief sinks his ALL-CAPS fingers into this issue. It's a perfect diversion from the gathering storm over the White House — and made to order for a president who loves stirring up divisiveness and outrage.

So why would Nike make such a provocative move? Why would any profit-driven company do something it knows is going to stir controversy and anger? One theory is the old saw that any publicity is good publicity. If the mass media and the entire social media universe — and the president — are talking and tweeting about your brand, it just enhances your company's public profile. Nike becomes national news.

Another theory, posited by TheStreet.com marketing guru Brian Sozzi, is that Nike "skates where they think the puck is going." In other words, the company is betting that the country is heading toward more enlightened attitudes, that the future will belong to those on Kaepernick's side of history — folks who think his right to protest is legitimate. Nike is putting real money on the idea that the current poisoned atmosphere around the kneeling issue is a short-term political exploitation that will burn out, leaving the angry "boycotters" looking foolish — and probably wishing they had that cool Ole Miss jersey back.

If you think about it, it's a brilliant power play: forcing fans to choose between their love for their favorite teams (and their own Nike apparel) and their distaste for Kaepernick and athletes who kneel during the National Anthem. It's the ultimate "put up or shut up" move.

Upping the ante even further, Nike announced that it will create a new Kaepernick shoe and T-shirt and other apparel, and that the company will also donate money to Kaepernick's "Know Your Rights" campaign. Cue the presidential tweets, and maybe even a new MAGA hat: Make Adidas Great Again. It will be made in China, of course.

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