Nike has stuck by controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a frontman for its latest advertising campaign, even as social media users threaten boycotts and burn its products. Meanwhile, the New Yorker dropped former Trump adviser Steve Bannon from its forthcoming festival within hours of announcing his participation. The storied magazine should have embraced the sports brand's motto, 'Just Do It', and stood firm.
True, there are important differences. Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers playmaker, rose to international prominence for kneeling during the national anthem - played before American football games - in protest of police brutality and racial injustice in the US. Bannon, the ex-executive chairman of right-wing Breitbart News and mastermind behind Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, has repeatedly voiced white-supremacist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic views. President Trump and other Conservatives have disingenuously branded Kaepernick as unpatriotic and disrespectful of the American flag, while liberals have denounced Bannon’s vitriol as dangerous and disgusting. For many, Kaepernick is a symbol of strength and sacrifice - he hasn't signed with a NFL team since March 2017 - while Bannon embodies intolerance and hate.
Nike’s endorsement of Kaepernick – it described him as “one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation” – is a rare show of courage and principle from a billion-dollar corporation, a prizing of values above expediency. In contrast, disinviting Bannon because of his repulsive views was a failure by the New Yorker to stay true to its brand and live up to journalistic principles. Bannon is an undeniable expert on the millions of Americans who went virtually unnoticed by the mainstream media before the election and voted for Trump out of anger, fear and hatred. He could have improved festival attendees' understanding of Trump's most loyal supporters and shed light on the president's erratic behaviour and future plans, preparing them for what lies ahead. New Yorker editor David Remnick, who was set to interview Bannon, would also have interrogated his repugnant views and exposed his lies.
Critics of Bannon’s inclusion were loath to grant him a platform and argued it would only propagate his propaganda. But the New Yorker has built its reputation on rich, nuanced and conflicting reports that are challenging rather than simplistic, and missed an opportunity to garner insights from Bannon and disprove his false narratives in front of a live audience.
The New Yorker would have faced severe backlash if it refused to budge on Bannon's involvement, but Nike has faced far greater blowback over Kaepernick. Instead of caving, Remnick could have emphasised the value of debating a key member of Trump's campaign with valuable insights about Americans, and trusted attendees of the New Yorker festival to see through Bannon's falsehoods. Instead, the New Yorker now looks scared to engage with wrong but prevalent viewpoints. While both companies will be praised by the mainstream for their decisions, the New Yorker made the wrong one.