Let’s get this out of the way. This is not about whether people should agree or disagree with 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick’s current choice of protest. People on both sides of the argument can focus on that. But because there is passion on both sides, there is little argument that Kaepernick took a huge risk with his future earnings. A lot of times athletes stay out of political arguments because of Michael Jordan’s adage — or urban myth — that Republicans buy sneakers too. That is why for the short term — and maybe the long term — Colin Kaepernick is very unlikely to return to his McDonald’s endorsement level on Madison Avenue.
It doesn’t help that Kaepernick hasn’t been very good on the field. He was in a battle for the starting spot with Blaine Gabbert. A former rising star, Kaepernick has been derailed by injury, coaching changes and stunted growth. If Kaepernick was a top talent, he may have more current and high-profile endorsements. Maybe if that was the case, he might not be as public with his protest. No one knows, but we do know the protest won’t help him in endorsements in the future. Kaepernick took a risk with his business and brand. It’s tough to endorse a product that is always aimed at the largest market possible and have 50 percent of the market not like the endorser.
Other athletes have supported Black Lives Matter and other movements focused on assisting minority relations with police officers. Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and LeBron James — some of the biggest names and endorsers in the NBA — have made statements, given interviews and appeared on the ESPYs trying to bring the discussion to the forefront. They did not risk their future earnings. One, because they are some of the best and most famous players in the NBA, and two because their form of protest was much different. It was a discussion, not what can be interpreted as an act of defiance.
Fans who say athletes should stick to sports obviously don’t know the history of sports and social change. From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and athletes and leagues now, sports has and will continue to be a catalyst in the U.S. Ali ended up being beloved and his brand image was strong until his passing. Of course, Ali was one of — if not the — greatest boxer of all time. Kaepernick is not even the best QB on his team. Even if he came back to be a Super Bowl QB, his endorsement options and Q score will be extremely limited by his protest. To Kaepernick, though, it is obviously worth the money he may lose in the process.