Some military families are attacking the Colin Kaepernick Nike ad as not showing real sacrifice, though others disagree

NikeColin Kaepernick during a Nike commercial released this week.
  • Some veterans and military families are criticising Nike and Colin Kaepernick for their new ad campaign, part of which focuses on the idea of sacrifice.
  • Kaepernick appears on a new Nike ad with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
  • Some service members and Gold Star families, including the widow of the decorated sniper Chris Kyle, have said the sacrifice Kaepernick represents is not comparable to that experienced by military families.
  • The reaction has not been uniform. Other military personnel and their families have voiced support for Kaepernick.

The US military community seems divided on Nike’s new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, with some veterans and military families attacking the language used in the campaign’s debut ad.

The caption on the ad, released Monday, said “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” presumably a reference to Kaepernick’s contention that his NFL career was derailed by his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games in 2016 to protest racial injustice.

Though Kaepernick denied his protest was directed at the flag itself, some interpreted his actions during the anthem as a snub to the military, and many with military ties began speaking out again this week in response to the ad campaign’s mention of sacrifice.

Figures to speak out include an active Special Forces sergeant, the widow of the decorated sniper Chris Kyle, and the mother of a 21-year-old Marine killed in a helicopter crash.

Colin Kaepernick Nike adNike/Colin Kaepernick via TwitterKaepernick in a billboard version of the ad.

Kaepernick played in parts of six seasons for the San Francisco 49ers but has been unsigned for more than a year, after the season in which he began kneeling during the anthem, and he has filed a lawsuit accusing the NFL of colluding to keep him off the field.

The criticism from some military personnel is that the sacrifice linked to Kaepernick bears little resemblance to that of troops who die carrying out their duties.

Others with military backgrounds have taken a different view, however, expressing support for Kaepernick in open letters and on social media.

Tim Kennedy, a Special Forces sergeant and former UFC fighter, was a critic. TMZ posted a video it said showed Kennedy in his Army base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, saying: “I’m in a room of a bunch of heroes that in a heartbeat would die for Colin’s right to do what he’s doing. That’s sacrifice. I’m not talking about giving away some position even though I’m not good enough to fill it because I’m not very talented as a quarterback.”

Some on social media have suggested that Pat Tillman, who quit the NFL to join the Army and was later killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, would have been a better candidate for an ad about sacrifice.

Taya Kyle, an author who is the widow of Kyle, the subject of “American Sniper,” posted an open letter to Nike on her Facebook page.

“Your new ad with Colin Kaepernick, I get the message, but that sacrificing everything thing.… It just doesn’t play out here,” she said. “Sacrificing what exactly? A career?”

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Trina Hart, whose son Lance Cpl. Ty Hart died in a helicopter crash over Hawaii at the age of 21, also posted an open letter criticising Nike.

“Sit down and talk to any Gold Star family and you will find out that SACRIFICE isn’t about a career, football, cars or money,” she said.

Gold Star is a term used to describe a family who has lost a member in active service.

“It’s about that empty seat at our table, it’s about never being handed a grandchild from our son, it’s about not getting to see him come up the walk, it’s about never feeling his hug again or hearing his voice,” Hart said. “I could go on and on Nike. Why? Because we SACRIFICED it all.”

“To use the word SACRIFICE in the way you just did is in poor taste,” she added. “It offends so many.”

She added a photo of her son’s grave in the post.

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More measured criticism came from Nate Boyer, the Special Forces veteran and former NFL player credited with helping Kaepernick decide to kneel during the anthem, rather than sit down, on the grounds that doing so would be more respectful.

Boyer suggested the ad’s wording too closely mirrored a form of sacrifice associated largely with the military.

“The ultimate sacrifice that we talk about often, people that have lost their lives fighting for the very things that the flag and the anthem are supposed to represent,” he told the Bay Area-based ABC7 News.

The reaction has not been uniform, however. Some military personnel and their families have been vocal in their support of Kaepernick and Nike.

Lily Burana, a journalist married to an Army veteran, wrote a story for Salon.com titled “Don’t speak for my military family: A veteran’s wife on Colin Kaepernick and the Nike boycott.”

“When you protest Kaepernick’s protest, even in the name of ‘supporting the troops,’ you are refuting everything my husband fought for: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the peaceful pursuit of justice,” she said.

The hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick, which first began trending in 2016, was resurrected after the Nike ad came to light.

Pam Keith, a Navy veteran running for office in Florida, was among those to tweet.

Others also joined in.

Nike shares fell about 2% after the ad came out and have remained down, though there’s evidence the criticism may not hurt the company’s sales.

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