- Caleb Walsh illustration
Love or hate the recent Colin Kaepernick ad blitz, there's one thing everyone has to admit: Nike knows how to sell sneakers.
Oh, sure, there were the Fox News talking head deniers, claiming Nike had made a critical mistake and would surely pay the price. And certainly they showed videos of a few folks tossing their already-purchased shoes into fires angrily — in perhaps the world's least effective protest.
But look, Nike knows how to sell sneakers and, equally important, it knows who buys sneakers. Putting Kaepernick in their ads wasn't charity or a political statement. It was savvy capitalism.
This wasn't even a particularly bold play by Nike. Kaepernick's popularity among consumers was already well established by his jersey sales, which rank among the highest among the NFL even though he isn't playing or even signed to a team. (Unsurprisingly, you didn't see any Fox News bloviators complaining about the NFL making money off the player they refused to play.)
But the fact that Nike's support for Kaepernick was a business decision rather than new-found corporate enlightenment makes me even more excited. Because it means sneakerheads, in mass, share my support for the quarterback turned civil rights and criminal justice activist. And this country has a heck of a lot of sneakerheads.
Unfortunately, just as Nike knows how to sell sneakers, right-wing operatives are just as good at selling divisive culture wars. They, too, are leaning into this moment to try to get white Americans to buy that Kaepernick (and politicians who agree with him) represents a threat to their values and to vote accordingly.
While this strategy reveals that our country sadly has too many voters stirred too easily by racial animosity, I'm hopeful that we have among us even more Kaepernick-supporting sneakerheads. Unfortunately, I suspect the Venn diagram between sneakerheads and voters shows far too little overlap.
Sneakerheads are disproportionately young and young people disproportionately fail to vote. But sneakerheads have the skills to help break this trend and save democracy.
First, they are natural trendsetters, willing to rebel against the status quo in favor of bold new styles. How about supporting some bold new policies and candidates to disrupt democracy?
Second, a standard tactic of the far right wing is to make voting more difficult by limiting polling places and making it more difficult to register to vote. This is a challenge made for sneakerheads. They've already shown a willingness to wait in long lines for hours and do whatever it takes to get their names on the list for the next hot drop. When they get engaged, they're impossible to suppress.
Third, sneakerheads do their research. In fact, they are obsessive researchers. They care about how the sausage — or rather the sneaker — is made, designed and marketed. Sneakerheads follow the hype, but they also know when to be skeptical and take a pass. Most importantly, they know how to spot a fake and don't do business with people who try to pass off falsehoods for the real thing.
So, sneakerheaders, how about it? Will you catch the latest hot collaboration when it drops on the first Tuesday in November? It features: You x Democracy. ♦
John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, studied at the College of Idaho and currently resides in Seattle. He has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's Republican Party politics.