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Just do it?
(Do you really need sneakers to kneel?)

The NFL opens up their regular season this week. Hallelujah! Sunday viewing parties all day, Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football and fantasy football! I was psyched!

I had finally come to terms with my own beliefs and biases regarding NFL players taking a knee in protest during the National Anthem. To me it was an important yet deeply complicated issue. My first reaction to kneeling was that I believed it was disrespectful to the flag, our military and our police officers. There is no group of people that I respect more than those who risk losing everything every time they go to work, so anyone showing disrespect to them would certainly earn my ire.

I had never threatened to boycott NFL games but I was not too happy about the growing protest…and the divisiveness it was causing in our country. I get it, protests are supposed to make people uncomfortable, I do. In the best case these protests could shine a light on their issues and spur some meaningful conversations. Since they began I was totally opposed to the kneel, partly because of the aforementioned reasons and partly because I disagreed with what I believed to be their (the protesters) main issue of protest. I disagreed with the individual cases of so-called police brutality and unjust police shootings.

I don’t mean to dredge up old (for me) arguments about this issue again. Good people on both sides need to agree to disagree sometimes. Anyway, going into this new season I was at peace with my own feelings on this issue and decided not to engage in talk about it one way or the other. After all, there was nothing I was going to add to the discussion that was going to bring about any positive conclusion. I had come to believe that the rights that American soldiers fought and died for were rights of every citizen. NFL players have the absolute right to protest in any way they wish while not in uniform. They also have the conditional right to protest while on the field depending on their employment considerations with their owners and the NFL – their employers.

Every citizen and every NFL viewer and fan has the absolute right to disagree and complain about the players kneeling…disagree and complain, but not threaten or partake in any threats or violence. If the players can’t handle these harsh feelings being directed against them that is their problem.

Me? I still didn’t like it or agree with it but I wasn’t going to attempt to take away their right to protest. The next person protesting on the streets could be me.

But then things changed…

Nike threw a monkey wrench into the works by introducing their new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it!” Sounds great on the surface, doesn’t it? But…this changed everything. Not about the protest. Not about the kneel. Not even about Kaepernick.

To me it changed the way I look at Nike. I was never a big fan of Nike, but I’ve never had anything against them either. They were one of those big companies that were hugely popular with many people around the world. I mostly ignored them. I would sometimes buy one of their products but the label didn’t sway me one way or the other. Now, however, I wouldn’t buy anything with their logo!

What Nike did was endorse, support and condone Colin Kaepernick, the man, and his actions, beliefs and moral character. This is the only reason a company chooses a person to be the face of their company. Nike is in effect stating to its customers and demographic audience that this person reflects the same values and morals our company seeks to espouse.

Really, Nike? The man protesting against the law enforcement officers and departments across America? The man who wore socks in practice depicting police officers as pigs?

And Mr. Kaepernick sacrificed everything? Really? I might be wrong but I believe he kept getting paychecks after he had been let go by the San Francisco 49ers. Not even having to work for it. By the way, he had already lost his starting job prior to the kneel.

While these facts about Mr. Kaepernick might not make him a bad person or someone to be disdained, they also don’t lift him to hero status either.

But the real disrespect from Nike’s ad campaign is the “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it!”

Are you execs at Nike that sheltered from real people and real life that you don’t see what a total slap in the face this is to military personnel who give their lives for their country? How about police officers and firefighters who give their lives in the line of duty every year? How about the 343 firefighters or 60 police officers who were murdered on 9/11 at the WTC? That is what it means to “sacrifice everything”!

The honest, although passionate, differences of opinion regarding protests in this country will continue as long as there is a reason to protest.

Nike, your complete insult to those who did, indeed, sacrifice everything is disgraceful!

Until next month, stay safe…and healthy!

Tom Kenney

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the monthly commentary “The Way I See It” are Tom Kenney’s and not necessarily those of The Providence Police & Firefighters Retirement Association.

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