Nike, Under Armour Stand Behind Athletes' Rights to Take a Knee

Nike Trainers - Getty - H 2017
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"Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society."

Nike, an official sponsor of the NFL, and Under Armour, which has endorsement contracts with players including Cam Newton and Tom Brady, both issued statements regarding the decision of dozens of football players to take a knee during the national anthem at their games over the weekend. The players are protesting violence against young African-Americans in the U.S., specifically at the hands of police.

On Saturday, Under Armour tweeted, "Under Armour stands for the flag and by our Athletes for free speech, expression and a unified America." 

In a similar statement issued to the media, Nike wrote: “Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society.”

The statements from both sports apparel companies come after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players for their method of protest, writing that kneeling was a sign of disrespect to fallen soldiers. He also called for the players to be suspended or fired for their actions. In response, more players and some team owners took a knee during the national anthem, and three teams stayed in the locker room. (Sports and politics also collided over the weekend when the president rescinded Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry's invitation to visit the White House along with the rest of his championship-winning team after Fox & Friends reported Curry was hesitant to attend.)

Colin Kapernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, was the first to begin kneeling during the national anthem last season. In an op-ed for The New York Times, his teammate, Eric Reid, stated that their decision to kneel was to not only make a statement, but to simultaneously show respect. "We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture," Reid wrote. "I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy."

Though the companies acknowledged the players' right to take a knee as a form of protest, neither business addressed the issue which was being protested to begin with — that is, nationwide police brutality against blacks. This avoidance of the substance of the protest is consistent with most of the conversations regarding the events of the past weekend, where emphasis was placed on the when/where/how rather than why.

This isn't the first time that the sports giants have issued statements regarding controversial events. In January, following the president's first travel ban, Nike issued a statement condemning "bigotry and any form of discrimination." Again in June, both Nike and Under Armour criticized Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. 

As has become the norm any time a business issues a statement regarding a particularly controversial subject matter, many customers took to social media to condemn the brands and stated that they had plans to boycott them.