The people at Nike may have found a way to make more money, but with the release of their new campaign, I think they’ve also entirely lost their minds.
Nike’s new campaign features a close-up shot of former football player, Colin Kaepernick, famous or infamous depending on one’s views, for leading the charge on sitting out or kneeling out the singing of the National Anthem traditionally done before football games. The caption, which is the part that I think is really problematic at best and potentially dangerous at worst, reads, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Sacrificing everything? Really? What’s next? Maybe Nike plans on ads which will feature people who blow themselves up in the name of God. Or perhaps they’ll bring us guys with hunting rifles who murdered doctors because they perform abortions –Guys who now sit in prison happily calling themselves “Martyrs” for the god in whom they believe.
OK I get it. Some people, especially if they find themselves more sympathetic to Kaepernick than that, will say, “Oh Brad, you’re overreacting. You’re over-reading, aren’t you?” No I don’t think so. I think I am reading for the same kind of messaging which we resist when we are less sympathetic to those using it.
The fact is, our world today is filled with people who live to celebrate sacrificing everything. Filled with them, and even more tragically, filled with their victims, and the victims of such thinking. Thinking which tell us that to believe deeply means to sacrifice everything.
Now to be fair, I think we should give credit to Nike for realizing and tapping into people’s need to believe in something — For the power of faith in some thing or some cause which lifts us above narrow self-interest. That’s great, because living only for ourselves is never good living. Living into some thing which invites us to go beyond our selves, even to the point of sacrifice, is actually part if living the richest and most meaningful life.
The idea that sacrificing everything, however, is not part of that path — at least not one to celebrate in most circumstances, and certainly not to sell shoes. Again, I want to give credit to Nike for appreciating the value of sacrifice and popular hunger for belief. That’s a shift for Nike. This is a company that used to sell shoes by telling people, if you would spend 150 or 200 or 300 dollars, or whatever it was, on sneakers, you could “Be Like Mike”, meaning Michael Jordan. You could jump higher and shoot more baskets, and that’s cool. That’s cool, but they seem to appreciate that being like Colin is different than being like Mike, and that people yearn for that difference.
Suggesting to people that they could be like Colin Kaepernick, whether you gree with him or not, that you could actually situate your career inside of values that are about more than how many touchdowns you score, that’s real, and that’s praiseworthy. And the fact is, we need more of that in our culture. But “Sacrifice everything”? No way. That is the last thing that we need to celebrate in a culture of spiraling extremism on all sides.
We need to hold up models of people who are willing to believe, who will dare to believe, who will sacrifice something, but not everything. Not to mention, that that way of portraying Kaepernick seems to me a disservice to him and how he has behaved himself, and not just because he is being handsomely rewarded for his so-called sacrifice, but because how he has behaved in the midst of his protest.
This is a guy who actually entertained kneeling, as opposed to sitting, because it seemed more respectful. This is a guy who regularly met with people who disagreed with him. This is a guy who was willing to give money to causes to support the very values that he celebrates. He sees himself as a willing philanthropist.
Colin Kaepernick strikes me not as an all-or-nothing person. He was willing to sacrifice a piece of himself to realize a larger piece of himself.
So yeah, believe in something for sure. Commit to it, even sacrifice for what you believe, but when any belief makes us feel okay about sacrificing everything, that’s when it’s time to reexamine our beliefs, however heartfelt or noble they may be.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.