Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson is a journalist and political analyst. He was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and the Hechinger Institute at Columbia University, and is a co-host of ESPN’s SportsNation and ESPN LA 710’s Mornings with Keyshawn, Jorge and LZ. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @lzgranderson. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Conservative talk radio host Ben Ferguson has tweeted and retweeted a handful of rebukes of Nike for choosing to use Colin Kaepernick in its latest “Just Do It” campaign. The ad features a headshot of the former NFL quarterback with the words: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Now that the dust surrounding Kaepernick’s departure from the NFL has settled, we’re able to have a more substantive conversation about some of the controversial topics that his peaceful protest against oppression of people of color during the national anthem sparked: freedom of speech and patriotism.
Ferguson, who appears to be offended that Nike would select someone who lost his career for trying to draw attention to inequality, tweeted images that replaced Kaepernick’s face with members of the military, including the late Arizona Cardinals football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who left his NFL career to enlist after the September 11 attack in New York. In 2004 he died in Afghanistan from friendly fire.
Stephen Miller, a FOX contributor, expressed the same sentiment as Ferguson, tweeting “Just putting it out there that Pat Tillman sacrificed just a *bit more than Colin Kaepernick.” Daniel Keem, creator of the YouTube channel DramaAlert, also tweeted the Tillman image to his nearly 2.5 million followers.
Finding someone “more deserving” to be the number one pick, win a Grammy, or in this case, be the face of an ad campaign, is just what we do when debate is a centerpiece of popular culture. But it is curious that some hold up members of the military as true heroes while also supporting President Donald Trump, who spent much of the past week failing to give the late Sen. John McCain’s sacrifice for our country the honor it deserved.
In fact, in 2015, then-candidate Trump went so far as to say, “He is not a war hero. … He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Trump, who subsequently refused to apologize for these comments, has since acknowledged that McCain was, in fact, a war hero.
There seems to be a measure of inconsistency from the people who believe war heroes are most deserving of being in a Nike ad about sacrifice, yet support a man whose disrespect toward a war hero was so palpable that The American Legion’s national commander urged him to “make an appropriate presidential proclamation, noting Senator McCain’s death and legacy of service to our nation.” A man who attacked the Gold Star family of Humayun Khan, a Muslim soldier killed in an Iraq suicide attack in 2004. A man who, when gifted a Purple Heart, joked “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”
I get it: Kaepernick is a controversial figure whose protest during the national anthem was misconstrued as an attack against the military. His subsequent silence has not been helpful in terms of clarification. Neither were his socks portraying police officers as pigs or his T-shirt with Fidel Castro on it.
If someone wants to take their anger and burn some shoes out in their backyard, it’s their prerogative. I’m fairly certain Nike knew its decision to feature Kaepernick in its campaign would draw calls of boycott and perhaps even a rebuke from stockholders. But I do wonder how the people who feel that members of the military deserve more respect from the athletic apparel company can swallow President Trump’s well-documented slights of servicemembers who have sacrificed the most.
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There is a part of this Nike outrage that seems based more on the principals than the principles. It reminds me of the way some Catholics are very protective of unborn children but turn a blind eye to the pedophiles in the church who systemically exploit young parishioners. So, those who use images of fallen heroes under the guise of respecting the military should probably do an audit of their allegiances, just to make sure their reasoning adds up.