Was Colin Kaepernick's latest play helpful or harmful?

Brilliant or bumbling? Helpful or harmful? Campaign US asked a range of reputation experts their opinions.

Did Colin Kaepernick unleash a groundswell of support or wear out his welcome this weekend by abruptly switching his long-awaited NFL skills showcase at the last minute? 

Kaepernick supporter Jay-Z helped broker the deal with NFL commissioner Roger Goddell, and the showcase attracted coaches and scouts from most of the league’s 32 teams to the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility Saturday to watch Kaepernick work out. 

The idea was to garner interest and convince a team to sign him after a controversial three-year absence from the league. But shortly before the showcase, Kaepernick announced a change of venue, 60 miles away. He says for transparency as the NFL-hosted event was closed, but others suggest Kaepernick wanted to get footage for a new Nike spot. 

For the team representatives that continued on to the new location, they encountered Kaepernick supporters wearing "I Know My Rights" T-shirts and the quarterback himself in a shirt bearing the name, Kunta Kinte, underscoring Kaepernick’s original activism. He also walked on the field in a pair of heretofore unseen Nike Air Force 1 Colin Kaepernick shoes, which set the sneaker community ablaze.  

Brilliant or bumbling? Helpful or harmful? Campaign US asked a range of reputation experts their opinions.

Did Colin Kaepernick score a win for his career this weekend as an NFL player, Nike/brand endorser, influencer and activist?


Missy Farren, Managing Partner, MFA/Finn Partners
This Saturday's showcase strengthened the Colin Kaepernick brand amongst his fans, sponsors, maybe even some teams. He showed he still has game and a strong message that he believes in. I don't think this will hurt him or will sway many minds one way or the other. It strikes me as very similar to what is happening in today's politics. Those who like Colin believe in him more. Those who didn't, probably still don’t.  As a football fan, it’s a shame, because the best players should be playing. For some reason, the NFL can’t seem to get out of its own way on this. There is clearly a double standard, which is likely more clear to the public than ever.

It seems to many of us that the NFL's original showcase was an ill-conceived attempt to accommodate someone or something.  A lack of trust and clear or honest communication between the parties has resulted in yet another controversy.

Dawn Colossi, Chief Marketing Officer, FocusVision
I don't know if what happened this weekend is going to get Colin Kaepernick his job back, but he continues to remain committed to a cause, and authentic to himself, and that matters for the people who believe in him, especially a brand like Nike.

We supported some research earlier this year that proved that feelings outweigh any other factor for customers when it comes to making decisions. We react, consider, and buy with our hearts over anything else. If you don't think Nike isn't tuned into that fact, you haven't been paying attention to the brand at all this year. There's a reason why this week BrandZ IDed Nike as #18 on its list of the top 100 most valuable US brands in 2019, and Colin Kaepernick is likely a huge part of that ranking.

On the other hand, the NFL has suffered from a long-standing reputation crisis, and it will be interesting to see how the league responds to what happened. Our same research study found that 93% of brands agree that consumers are more likely to spend money with a brand they feel connected to. If one team is willing to make a bold move and sign Colin Kaepernick, I imagine the NFL's business will make a comeback - with playoffs looming, reigniting a fan base is likely a number one priority for the sport.

Renee Whitworth, Strategic Director, Flood Creative
He did not score a win for his future with the NFL. Nike may be "bigger" but the NFL has more power. If he needs to dangle the possibility of repairing his relationship with the NFL like a carrot in order to have a platform for his message, he may not be able to piggyback official NFL activity much longer. So, I don't think his goal is to actually get back in the league.

However as long as he, or any public figure, gets their message across, it's a win. Similarly, just like an actor who risks upsetting some members of the Academy of Motion Pictures, they can say whatever socio-political criticism they want on the Oscars stage. The difference is, they might actually find another director to hire them who agrees with their stance. They will still find work, or fund their own films. But, there is only one NFL, and less than 100 QB slots to fill.

Richard Laermer, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, RLM PR
Everything that transpired on Saturday proves that Colin Kaerpernick has absolutely no respect for the NFL. And that really will hurt him with fans. What it means for advertisers, I suspect, is that most people will look at him as trouble. He was supposed to be the good guy and all of this will make everything so difficult that it’s hard to imagine anybody in the NFL picking him up. 

The only people that get sponsorships these days are people that have great respect for the NFL and its privileges. Colin Kaepernick has shown the exact opposite. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself and he proves it constantly. 

The fact of the matter is, he was good for a little while but hasn’t been good in a real sense for a long time. He was offered a spot on the Alliance of American Football/AAF last year but turned it down because it didn’t match his $20 million asking price. So he’s really not interested in playing football. He’s only interested in himself, and in making trouble. 

From my point of view, it would be incredibly difficult to hire him because he’s trouble. And probably very troubled. So I think sponsors will run. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nike took another look. Right now it’s important for people who happen to be athletes and sponsors to be safe pets. And he’s not a safe bet. Not at all.

Afdhel Aziz, Founder+Chief Purpose Officer, Conspiracy of Love
Colin Kaepernick reminded us this weekend that despite the politics surrounding him, he’s still a fantastic football player, and vindicated Nike’s decision to cast him as the face of the 30th anniversary of ‘Just Do It,' which elevated the brand about being more than just sporting excellence- but also moral excellence. He is the Muhammad Ali of our time. 

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