Nike Inc. will feature Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who led player protests against racial injustice and police brutality during the national anthem, in a new advertising campaign — a highly visual joining of a predominant NFL business partner with a controversial player, currently without a team, who is engaged in a legal battle with the league.
Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, revealed his role in the campaign in a Monday tweet that was subsequently retweeted by Nike’s NKE, +1.23% corporate Twitter account.
Kaepernick, already on under a Nike endorsement contract, has a new multiyear deal with Nike, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, the Wall Street Journal reported. That may include his own branded line of apparel, according to Yahoo NFL reporter Charles Robinson.
Nike told the Journal in an email that Kaepernick is among a slate of athletes that the shoe and apparel maker — it has a reported billion-dollar deal to make NFL uniforms and other gear — will feature as it marks the 30th anniversary of its Just Do It campaign. That includes tennis star Serena Williams, who also tweeted.
Response on Twitter drew both praise and criticism for the ad campaign, including those who lamented the commercialization of the social justice efforts. Others welcomed the big money pressure on the NFL to keep race issues front and center, especially in a sport predominately played by African Americans.
In his suit, Kaepernick alleges the league and all 32 teams colluded to keep him unsigned because of his outspoken political views. He was one of the leaders of player protests, signified by most by kneeling during the national anthem, drawing repeated criticism from President Trump.
Read: New York Giants owner says Trump lacks understanding of NFL players’ anthem protests
Related: NFL preseason kicks off with scattered protests during anthem
Kaepernick, who many NFL analysts believe has the ability to be a present-day starter somewhere in the NFL, has gone unsigned since March 2017. Court documents from his collusion case reveal most teams considered him good enough to be a starter.
Previously, The Wall Street Journal reported that, in depositions for Kaepernick’s grievance, NFL owners indicated that President Trump’s attacks on the player protests pushed them to change the rules for the season just underway.
After NFL owners changed the rules regarding the anthem in the spring to require players on the field to stand and “show respect” for the anthem, those rules were suspended after it drew the ire of players, who continue to negotiate with the owners of a league suffering falling viewership and plays under increased scrutiny of head injuries.
Read: Nike needs ‘real’ people — not just Serena Williams — to sell to women
Nike, meanwhile, has been grappling with the fallout of an internal scandal in which nearly a dozen executives left the company amid complaints of inappropriate workplace behavior. Last month, two former Nike employees filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and detailing specific accounts of alleged harassment.
Nike has said it “opposes discrimination of any type and has a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Nike shares are up 31% year to date, while the S&P 500 SPX, +0.01% is up 8.5% over the same stretch.