Nike has unveiled its 30th anniversary ad campaign, and Colin Kaepernick is its headliner. A black-and-white photo of a solemn Colin is overlaid with the phrase "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."
Why not use Kaepernick? After all, according to Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America, "Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward."
Nike is right about one thing: Sacrificing everything for something you believe in is inspirational and can stimulate national discourse on important topics. And Kaepernick’s stated motivation — protesting police brutality — is unquestionably worthy. No good-willed person endorses brutality by the police. But were his tactics effective? Did they prompt the kind of response that "move[s] the world forward"?
Some strongly endorse Kaepernick’s decision to kneel, while others vehemently disagree and believe Kaepernick’s actions have unfairly smeared hundreds of thousands of law enforcement personnel rather than focusing on the despicable actions of a few. I’ll leave that question for others to debate. Here’s what I want to know.
What is Nike really celebrating: a particular narrative or a national principle? On its face, it’s the latter. The ad applauds Kaepernick’s principled exercise of his free speech and freedom of conscience to communicate his view on a contentious issue. The fact is, Kaepernick would almost certainly be on a National Football League roster had he not chosen to kneel. But he did, and he isn’t.
Kaepernick isn’t the first to take a stand (or kneel) on a controversial issue. Other men and women are putting principle over popularity, and some are paying an even greater cost.
Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips sought to live out his conscience even though it might not be popular, just like Kaepernick did. Jack took a principled stand that put his career at risk, just like Kaepernick did. Jack serves any individual that comes into his shop, but he doesn’t create custom cakes that express certain messages, like those advancing atheism, racism, or indecency. He also doesn’t create anti-American cakes, so if you want a flag-burning cake for a Kaepernick protest, Jack is probably not your guy.
You see, Jack believes that the First Amendment protects his choice of what to express and what not to express. What’s more inspiring than a principled defense of the First Amendment — one that cost Jack greatly, both financially and emotionally?
Colin Kaepernick took a knee. Jack Phillips took a stand. But Jack is never going to be the face of a Nike campaign. Because the views on which Jack took a stand — when he declined an invitation to create a custom cake celebrating a same-sex marriage — are not deemed socially acceptable. Unfortunately for Jack, in today’s culture, there doesn’t seem to be much tolerance left over for his biblical view of marriage.
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Jack’s favor in June, finding that the state of Colorado had demonstrated "clear and impermissible hostility" toward his religious beliefs, officials in the state of Colorado continue to target him for prosecution. Sound familiar, Kaepernick fans? Only instead of a private business — the NFL — not offering Kaepernick a job (or at least not one he was willing to take), in Jack’s case, it’s the government seeking to sack him permanently.
Jack isn’t the only defender of freedom who "just did it." Barronelle Stutzman is a 73-year-old grandmother from Washington state, and when it comes to sacrificing everything for your beliefs, she’s got game. Though Barronelle happily serves all people through her business, Arlene’s Flowers, she chose not to participate in the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend and customer because of her religious beliefs about marriage. As a result, the Washington attorney general filed a lawsuit against her, as did the American Civil Liberties Union.
Like Kaepernick, Jack and Barronelle took a stand for what they believe. Unlike Kaepernick, Jack and Barronelle stand to lose everything because the government said there is no room for their views in the marketplace.
Kaepernick, who is not on an NFL roster, recently negotiated a multi-year deal with Nike, and the company will feature him on commercials, billboards, and online ads, among other platforms. It will also create an apparel line for him and contribute to his charity. Kaepernick risked upsetting his fans and his employer, and his decision certainly impacted his playing career. But he is getting something in return for sacrificing "everything."
It’s pretty clear Nike won’t be promoting Jack or Barronelle anytime soon. But that’s alright. Barronelle and Jack — and others like them — don’t need an endorsement contract. They don’t need a stadium full of people cheering their name. They don’t need you to agree with them, because they know one of the best things about America is the chance to live freely in a society with many people who think differently than they do.
What Jack and Barronelle are looking for is freedom to live consistently with their views, and tolerance for what they believe. That’s something we should all believe in, and that’s something that would move our world forward.
James Gottry is legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman in their respective cases.