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Nike's New Ad Campaign Divides Law Enforcement


Football is back. And if you watched the season opener in Philadelphia Thursday night, you might have caught a glimpse of Colin Kaepernick. But the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback was not on the field. He was featured in a new and already controversial Nike ad with the tag line that says, quote, "believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything," unquote. Now, Kaepernick has become a national figure and a lightning rod for his decision to kneel during the national anthem when it's played before games, a protest he believes has caused him to be blacklisted. And now that Nike ad has become a lightning rod as well.

Last week, the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police condemned the ad, calling it an insult. Another police organization went so far as to call for a police boycott of Nike. But their views aren't the only ones. An organization of black police officers issued a statement disagreeing with that sentiment and defending the inclusion of Colin Kaepernick in the ads as quote, unquote, "appropriate."

We wanted to hear more about this, so we've called Chuck Canterbury. He is the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. It's believed to be the largest law enforcement union in the United States. And he is with us now. Mr. Canterbury, thanks so much for joining us.

CHUCK CANTERBURY: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So your organization released a statement on Tuesday, as we said, calling Nike's ad campaign an insult. Why do you consider it an insult?

CANTERBURY: Well, because of the false narrative that there is systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States. And using a pro athlete who has never sacrificed anything in his life in that kind of ad was just insulting to the average American who knows when that national anthem starts playing, that as Americans, we have a responsibility and a duty to stand and respect the flag of our country.

MARTIN: I mentioned earlier the National Black Police Association responded with a statement saying - and I'll quote - "the NBPA believes that Mr. Kaepernick's stance is in direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for, the protection of a people, their human rights, their dignity, their safety, their rights as American citizens." And I was wondering, you know, what's your reaction to that? I was wondering why you think you and your fellow officers see the situation so differently.

CANTERBURY: Well, we see the situation differently because of the method of protest. Kneeling during the national anthem when we have soldiers that are currently at war and we've had, just this year alone, 38 police officers gunned down in the streets of America, it's just not the appropriate format. When Colin Kaepernick started his protest, the Nationals Fraternal Order of Police sent a letter to the NFL and to the NFL Players Association encouraging dialogue. We've yet to hear from any of those parties.

MARTIN: But I was asking you about black police officers. The National Black Police Association has a different view. So I'm just curious why you think they see it differently.

CANTERBURY: Well, I obviously think they see it differently because the National Black Police Officers Association is entirely African-American. The Fraternal Order of Police and NAPO are inclusive of everybody that's in the law enforcement community. We represent 340,000 of America's law enforcement officers, and a good portion of our members are African-American. Many of those are American veterans as well. And it's the type of protest. We do not deny that there are cases of racism in law enforcement, but we don't believe it's systemic.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, can I just ask what the last couple of years have been like for you? I don't know if you're a football fan, but do you mind if I ask - you see a game, guys are kneeling because obviously people are looking at that and they're feeling different things. They're feeling - do you mind if I ask you what you're feeling?

CANTERBURY: My father was a Vietnam veteran. And when I see the protest, it really saddens me. If these players would get off their knees and get out in the communities and work with the law enforcement community to demonstrate that we can work and live together, that we can improve relationships, that would impress me. Taking a knee during the national anthem, to me, just saddens me.

MARTIN: You know, Nate Boyer did six years in Special Forces before he was signed by the Seahawks, unsigned free agent. I don't know if you're familiar with that story. He was the person who - Kaepernick initially started by sitting on the bench. And Nate Boyer said that, you know, that's disrespectful. If you really want to show respect, then you should take a knee. That's a posture of reverence. And that's why he started taking a knee. Does that change anything for you?

CANTERBURY: No, nothing.

MARTIN: OK. That's Chuck Canterbury. He's president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. And he was talking to us about law enforcement's reaction to the Colin Kaepernick Nike ad campaign Mr. Canterbury, thanks so much for talking to us.

CANTERBURY: OK, thanks a lot.

MARTIN: So you heard me mention Nate Boyer, the former Green Beret who advised Colin Kaepernick to take a knee instead of sitting for the national anthem. I'm going to speak with him tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.