Activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick generated controversy following an interview this week in which he accused his white adoptive parents of being “problematic” and perpetuating “racism” in his upbringing. Going unmentioned in Kaepernick’s interview was the problematic behavior of the corporate sponsors that have enriched him to the tune of millions of dollars, companies that have been implicated in slavery and child labor in their supply chains.
Nike, which negotiated a deal in 2018 with Kaepernick reportedly worth millions of dollars per year, has long faced accusations of perpetuating abusive sweatshop labor in its shoe factories. Even after years of commitments from the company to improve its workers’ conditions, the Washington Post reported in 2020 that hundreds of members of China’s oppressed Uyghur Muslim minority are forced to assemble Nike shoes.
Ben & Jerry’s, an ice cream company known for being politically outspoken on climate change, race, and its opposition to Israel, sponsors Kaepernick through a non-dairy ice cream flavor featuring his image called “Change the Whirled.” Despite its commitments to progressive values and fair work practices, Ben & Jerry’s was implicated in a New York Times exposé last month, which revealed that migrant children process the milk used in the company’s ice cream.
A Ben & Jerry’s executive defended the company’s labor practices to the Times, saying “that if migrant children needed to work full time, it was preferable for them to have jobs at a well-monitored workplace.”
Kaepernick, whose Nike branding features the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” chose during his interview on CBS this week to speak out instead against his “problematic” upbringing, including his mother’s criticism of his hairstyle when he was a child.
“I know my parents loved me, but there were still very problematic things that I went through,” Kaepernick said Thursday. He pointed to the time his mother said his cornrows made him look “not professional” and “like a little thug” as an example of how “racism” was “perpetuated” in his home.
Kaepernick gained fame as an activist near the end of his NFL career, when he would kneel in protest during the singing of the national anthem. He’s since regularly attracted controversy for his statements, including his declaration that the Trump administration’s killing of Iranian general and terrorist sponsor Qassem Soleimani was one of many “American terrorist attacks” and his claim that the historic Betsy Ross flag is “offensive.”
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