Nike has faced a backlash for its decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of its new “Just do It” campaign – with some critics burning their trainers or slicing the famous swoosh logo off their clothing.
The sporting goods giant is using former NFL quarterback Kaepernick as the face of its new "Just Do It" campaign, launched to mark the 30th anniversary of the iconic slogan.
Kaepernick triggered a political firestorm in 2016 after kneeling during the US national anthem to protest racial injustice and has been effectively blacklisted from the game since.
"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything," the ad, featuring a close up shot of Kaepernick, states.
The ads have prompted calls for Nike boycotts over Kaepernick, who attracted the ire of US President Donald Trump for his protest against police brutality against African Americans and support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think it’s a terrible message. Nike is a tenant of mine. They pay a lot of rent,” Mr Trump said during an interview with the Daily Caller on Tuesday, referring to Niketown New York.
Critics of the footballer – and Nike – have torn up, burned or defaced their Nike products in response to the campaign, many using the #bannike, #dumpnike or even #justburnit hashtags on Twitter.
Country star John Rich showed off a pair of Nike logos that had been removed from his soundman's socks.
“Our soundman just cute the Nike swoosh off his socks. Former marine. Get ready @Nike multiply that by the millions,” he tweeted.
Another tweet showing a pair of white Nike trainers alight has been retweeted more than 50,000 times.
The anti-Nike puns have also started.
"Just Don't," posted one Instagram user.
The campaign has also triggered a tumble in Nike’s share price, amid the backlash.
Nike fell 2.9 per cent to $79.78 in mid-morning trading, the first session following news the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback would be featured in Nike's campaign.
"While it is noble to take a stand on something, it is also commercially imprudent to dash headlong into a very sensitive issue which polarizes opinion," GlobalData Retail managing director Neil Saunders.
"Although the company's stand may go down well on its native West Coast, it will be far less welcome in many other locations."
But other analysts said the ads could boost Nike's standing with core consumers, including minorities and millennials and the move has already been praised by the likes of former CIA director and leading Trump critic John Brennan, as well as sports journalist Jemele Hill, who have praised Kaepernick for taking a stand against police slayings of unarmed black men.
Picking Kaepernick may turn off some customers, but it likely will strengthen the company's standing with others, according to professor of brand management at Virginia Commonwealth University Kelly O'Keefe.
"It's a dangerous move in that I'm certain there is already a boycott under way, but in the case of Nike I think those most likely to boycott are not likely to be their core audience," O'Keefe said.
"I think their core audience is likely to be not only supportive of this, but even more enamoured of the brand for their willingness to take this stand."
The National Football League issued a measured statement on the issue, saying “The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity. We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved in this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities”.
“The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”
Another leading Nike star, Serena Williams praised Kaepernick and fellow former 49er Eric Reid for their political stances at the US Open last week.
Some conservatives attacked Kaepernick's kneeling protest during the National Anthem, saying it was disrespectful to servicemen and women.
Some of the same detractors have posted photos of late NFL star Pat Tillman, who walked away from a multi-million dollar football contract to enlist in the US Army following the September 11 terror attacks.
Tillman was killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan, but his biographer said the former Army Ranger would have stood by Kaepernick ‘s protest.
"Pat would have found Kaepernick an extremely admirable person for what he believed in,” Jon Krakauer told The Washington Post.
“I have no doubt if he was in the NFL today, he would be the first to kneel. So there is irony about what is going on.”