Mr. Kaepernick’s Sacrifice

Author: Dom Rottman

The individual who in service of the spectacle is placed in stardom’s spotlight is in fact the opposite of an individual… In entering the spectacle as a model to be identified with, he renounces all autonomy in order himself to identify with the general law of obedience to the course of things. –Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

I do not claim to know you, Mr. Kaepernick. I know little of your life, therefore I will not say you have sacrificed nothing, nor will I say you have sacrificed everything.

Two years ago you took a knee, and that simple act sent ripples and then waves through time and space, for you did not merely act, you spoke, seizing the opportunity that comes when one appears before men and women.

But did you not fail? Police brutality is something to take seriously. It is an issue worth addressing. But two years later people aren’t discussing police brutality, they’re discussing whether what you did–and only what you did–was right. I do not take you for a fool, Mr. Kaepernick. You know your actions have consequences. In fact, if kneeling during the American national anthem didn’t cause a stir, you probably would not have done it the first place. Alas, people did not stir about what you hoped. I say this because I believe it is clear you are sincere, that you believe in your cause, and any cause you would get behind and dare to represent. Which is why Nike’s recent advertisement is problematic.

Those who burn their Nike shoes are foolish to do so–nike has already taken their money. But also foolish are those who attempt to make a point by boycotting Nike, or, conversely, intentionally buying Nike in supposed “support” or “solidarity” with you and your cause. Inherently, consumption has no moral value–a subject which I will discuss another time–therefore the the one who chooses to buy or not buy Nike shoes in doing so is expressing nothing more than a want for a specific pair of shoes. Buying Nike shoes is hardly an act that condemns the violence of police brutality, nor is boycotting Nike “respecting the flag.” It is simply an accident of capitalist society that sometimes consumption patterns can have material or political side effects–this is not one of those cases. When side effects do occur, though, it is worth noting that this is only because it is accordant with capitalism’s essential property: the pursuit of profit is paramount.

In other words, Nike does not care about police brutality, nor the disrespect of the flag–and why would they? They obviously don’t care about the grossly underpaid and mistreated working people in their sweatshops. Controversy can make sales, and you, Mr. Kaepernick, have chosen to play into Nike’s hands. In short, you have commodified yourself and your cause.

If it was for publicity, perhaps to renew the original conversation you wanted to have, I could not think of a worse way to do it. For one, as I mentioned earlier, people do not first associate you as being a critic of police brutality, they associate you with disrespect of the flag. Thus, any publicity you get is not likely to start a conversation about police violence. For another, your image and your cause commodified in an advertisement becomes secondary, at best, to the selling of shoes for the accumulation of capital for Nike. Were it the case that, for example, you created an organization that was created to address police brutality and like issues, and were sponsored by Nike, that would be less problematic–though I would still have qualms about it. Generally speaking, the most authentic way to address an issue is to tackle it head on. I have seen pictures of you handing out suit jackets to less fortunate people, so that they might be more successful in a job interview. That is a far better act than commodifying yourself to Nike in hopes of–What? Other than wanting to “renew the conversation,” which I just argued was a poor rationale, I cannot think why you would do this, insofar as you wish to remain authentic with your cause and yourself, and a desire to challenge the status quo. Was it for more attention? Was it greed? I do not believe that you are so selfish, Mr. Kaepernick. I don’t know why exactly I don’t want to believe that, but I don’t. But regardless of your intentions, what you have done–and I am assuming you freely decided to allow your face in that ad–has defanged your advocacy, stabbed it with those same teeth, and thrown into a fire, turning it into ash indistinguishable from the ash of what were once the shoes of fools.

So Maybe you did sacrifice everything, Colin Kaepernick. You sacrificed everything you could have been, anything that you could have said or done, any cause that you could have created, any power of words or action that you could have had, all of this you cast into flames in order to commodify your cause and yourself.

And in return you got nothing.