Liberty to Atlantic Sun Conference

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks at a press conference where he announced that Liberty University would be moving to the Atlantic Sun Conference for all non-football sports on Thursday May 17, 2018, in Lynchburg, Va. Photo by Lathan Goumas.

Nike's embrace of Colin Kaepernick has Jerry Falwell Jr. rethinking Liberty University's contract with the company, which has signed on to supply the Flames with athletic gear until 2024.

Nike recently inked the former NFL quarterback for an ad campaign. Kaepernick has been out of the NFL since 2016, when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against minorities. He also wore socks in practice depicting police officers as pigs. Falwell said it’s that disrespect that concerns him about Nike’s alignment with Kaepernick and he wants to find out where the athletic retailer stands on the issues.

“If the company really has animus toward police officers, or if they’re intentionally disrespecting our flag, our veterans, our national anthem, as part of some mission of the company and using their resources to do it, then why deal with them when there are plenty of other good athletic companies out there?

“On the other hand, if they are just trying to make money off the attention that former quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been receiving then we understand that that’s just marketing and we’ll probably overlook it,” Falwell said Friday afternoon.

He added he has not yet spoken with Liberty’s legal department or Nike about the matter. Falwell said he plans to inquire about contract termination clauses, and the athletic department will contact Nike to see “what they are trying to accomplish” through the ad campaign.

If the deal is airtight, Liberty likely will have to continue with the contract, he added.

Nike representatives did not reply Friday afternoon to a request for comment.

Nike struck a nerve with conservatives when it debuted an ad Sunday featuring Kaepernick’s image with the inscription: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” a likely reference to his inability to find a roster spot since he began protesting. Social media has lit up with videos of flaming Nikes as conservatives voiced their disapproval. Fox News Host Sean Hannity and other conservative commentators have taken the company to task for the move, and President Donald Trump weighed in, tweeting: “What was Nike thinking?”

Trump also has been sharply critical of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem before games, a move that began with Kaepernick during his time with the San Francisco 49ers.

The commercial has drawn a lot of attention, but reaction has been mixed.

Consumers’ view of the brand slipped, according to a survey by polling company Morning Consult, which found a favorability rating of 60 percent for Nike, down from a prior 76 percent. Company stock prices also dropped initially before stabilizing.

But it’s not all bad news for Nike, with MarketWatch reporting online sales climbed 31 percent after the ad launched.

If Liberty drops Nike, it won’t be the first college to do so. College of the Ozarks, a Christian college in Missouri, announced Wednesday that it planned to remove all Nike uniforms or athletic apparel due to the company’s new ad campaign.

“In their new ad campaign, we believe Nike executives are promoting an attitude of division and disrespect toward America,” College of the Ozarks President Jerry C. Davis said in a news release announcing the school’s split with the athletic apparel retailer. “If Nike is ashamed of America, we are ashamed of them. We also believe that those who know what sacrifice is all about are more likely to be wearing a military uniform than an athletic uniform.”

According to the Flames website, Liberty has had a long-term contract with Nike since 2009.

Nike outfits all 20 of the school’s NCAA Division I athletic programs.

"We are honored and blessed to partner with Nike as our athletics footwear and apparel provider for the next seven years," said Liberty Director of Athletics Ian McCaw in a 2017 news release announcing the contract extension through 2024. "This agreement provides significant financial resources to serve our student-athletes and programs by providing the finest equipment and apparel from the leading and most recognized brand in college athletics."

While Falwell isn’t pleased with Kaepernick’s inclusion in Nike’s marketing campaign, he seems indifferent to its product, noting that he doesn’t typically pay attention to brand names.

“I might have a pair in the closet, I don’t know,” Falwell said.

Kaepernick ad

A large billboard stands on top of a Nike store showing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at Union Square, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in San Francisco.

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