Sports apparel giant Nike has chosen Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to kneel in protest during the US national anthem, as one of the faces of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.
Kaepernick is without a team since leading the high-profile anti-racism protest that invoked anger from US President Donald Trump, but Nike described the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback “one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation”.
“Colin has been a Nike athlete since 2011,” Nike spokeswoman Sandra Carreon-John said on Tuesday morning (AEST).
“Colin is one of a number of athletes being featured as part of our 30th anniversary of Just Do It.”
Kaepernick posted a black-and-white close-up of himself on Instagram and Twitter on Monday featuring the Nike logo and the “Just do it” slogan along with the quote, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”.
“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Nike vice president of brand Gino Fisanotti was quoted as saying by ESPN.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
Kaepernick’s lawyer called his client an “All American icon” in a Twitter post in response to the news.
NFL is yet to publicly respond to the development.
The Associated Press quoted a source involved with the Nike negotiations as saying Kaepernick will feature on several platforms, including billboards, television commercials and online ads.
Nike would also create an apparel line for Kaepernick and contribute to his Know Your Rights charity, the source said.
The deal puts Kaepernick in the top bracket of NFL players with Nike.
Kaepernick is in a legal dispute with the NFL and its 32 teams over claims that owners conspired to keep him out of the league because of his protests. He claims the owners violated their collective bargaining agreement with players by conspiring to keep him off teams.
Nike provides all NFL teams with their game-day uniforms and sideline apparel in a deal that runs through to 2028.
Kaepernick was a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers for six years.
He stirred a national controversy by taking a knee while the anthem was played before games during the NFLs 2016 season to draw attention to police killings of black men and other racial issues.
The anthem protests, soon embraced by other players, raised the ire of some NFL fans and Mr Trump, who has said he would love to see NFL owners fire football players who disrespect the American flag.
The NFL this season adopted a rule requiring all players to stand during the anthem, although it gave them the option of staying off the field until the ceremony was over.
Even so, the protests persisted through the pre-season and the NFL said it is in discussions with the players union on the policy.
News of Nike’s ad campaign broke just days before the first game of the NFL season on Thursday, when the controversy over pre-game protests could flare anew.