Reflection on Big Message, Big Money: Kaepernick, Nike and Protest

Last night I saw the new Nike advertisement featuring Colin Kaepernick and this morning I read Joon Lee’s post Big Message, Big Money. As an avid sports fan, a parent, an educator, an employee of a mission based institution, and someone who places Congressman John Lewis on a pedestal as a moral and courageous hero, I watched the advertisement and read this article with many lenses and some surprisingly conflicting perspectives.

While it is not my intent to take a side on this topic, I did come away from watching the advertisement and reading the article with a few strong reactions:

(From the article) No platform reflects the ideals of America at any point in history like advertising. It echoes the country’s ambitions

YIKES!!! This is a powerful and scary statement. As a parent and teacher, I am hyper aware of the power that media and advertising have in shaping the images of what our kids should aspire to look like, how they should act, and what constitutes a fulfilled and fulfilling life. With this in mind, I am both thrilled and terrified by the idea of a massive company with immense power like Nike taking on the role of social action. I love the idea of a company with a conscience and the idea of a civic responsibility, but I am concerned by a potentially non-transparent selection process of what social action is deemed worth of endorsement. This makes me think of Charles Barkley’s comments about being a basketball player not a role model. Simply because he was successful basketball player and in the public eye, was it fair for us to ask that he be a better person? Similarly, this makes me think of the incredible TEDtalk “The moral bias behind your search results” in which Andreas Ekstrom shares “that behind every algorithm is a set of personal beliefs that no code can ever completely eradicate.”

(From the ad) Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything

Congressman Lewis said, “we must accept one central truth and responsibility as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.” I feel blessed to live in a country and community where I am free to engage in this noble task personally and assigned to the task professionally of fostering discussion and action about social justice. In addition to social justice, this message equally resonates with people’s faith.   In a time that seems dichotomously hyper concerned against mention of faith, religion and values and rampant with salacious speech and accusation via news and social media, the assertion of a core belief is refreshing. While I appreciate the idea for all of the reasons above, I cannot separate the message from the messenger. A professional athlete’s categorization of “sacrificing everything” certainly is incongruent with the struggles John Lewis experienced in the civil rights movement and the hardships the people have faced/do face in the name of sustaining beliefs.

(From the ad) So, don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.

Here I am blessedly un-conflicted. I love the idea of being challenged to dream “dreamier” dreams. I thoroughly endorse the learning opportunity which FAILure (First Attempt In Learning) presents, and I love the idea of untethering fear of failure from our pursuits and dreams. I believe it is incumbent on teachers to create a FAIL friendly environment where students can aspire for the fantastic and fantastical. This quote makes me think of JFK and his speech about moon thinking. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” I love this and this fantastic video (What is Moonshot Thinking?) that expands on the idea.




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