By Christian Ryan
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against violence and inequality continues to take the world by storm, with clothing juggernaut Nike utilizing him in a bold new ad campaign. The former NFL player remains a polarizing figure even years after he kneeled during the American national anthem to protest of police brutality and inequality.
While the focus has largely been on statements by professional athletes, RTA School of Media professor Laurel Walzak believes that student-athletes should look to the campaign as a source of inspiration and education.
For the last two years, Ryerson has been in partnership with Nike, giving its varsity teams the opportunity to wear the swoosh as an official supplier.
Nike and Kaepernick have helped athletes pursue opportunities to speak on their beliefs with a platform to have their voices heard, while taking the brunt of the backlash. Walzak also states that for students and athletes who have felt powerless in any situation, it is a message of inspiration that you have every right to stand against inequities you face and that people will support you.
As Ryerson players and supporters continue to sport the iconic Nike logo, Walzak believes that the partnership will allow Rams athletes to feel “more safe” and have the “open environment to be able to speak if there are inequities in what they’re experiencing.”
“It gives you that voice, and a platform to have that voice,” she explained. She also said that since Nike is putting the pressure on the other big brands, athletes don’t have to feel “like they’re alone or like they don’t have a voice.”
Walzak, with marketing experience in the NHL, CWHL and NFL, currently teaches Sport Marketing in the RTA sport media program. Nike’s campaign with Kaepernick has provided the most poignant lessons in marketing and humanity this year.
As Ryerson students provide a platform to discuss and broadcast the stories and influences of the student-athletes that make up the Ryerson Rams programs, Walzak urges them to learn from this campaign and the struggles of those who came before them to address real issues facing sport—the very same issues facing the world as a whole.
“My message to the athletes and to sport media students is to not be complacent and to not be complicit,” Walzak said. “As a female in sport, I have been subjected to sexism. I have been subjected to sexual harassment in sport. I completely understand not wanting to come forward for fear of some kind of retaliation.
“I don’t feel that fear anymore to the same extent.”