Colin Kaepernick: Brand Risk or Missed Opportunity?

Morela Hernandez and Joseph (Sonny) Siragusa

At the beginning of the 2016 football season, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began a protest against racial injustice: He made a stand by taking a knee during the national anthem. The high-profile act came after a rise in accusations of racial profiling by the police and accompanying attention in the media, and Kaepernick publicly stated he was aware that his decision may jeopardize his future in football and endorsements.

Unsurprisingly, Kaepernick’s kneeling proved divisive, both with NFL professionals and the public. While some supported his actions as an exercise of free speech — among them, his head coach and former U.S. President Barack Obama — others vehemently disapproved, including his birth mother and President Donald Trump.

Since becoming a free agent in advance of the 2017 season, Kaepernick remains unsigned. Some believe he’s been blackballed in response to the protest, and Kaepernick himself has filed a grievance alleging collusion by owners in the league. Meanwhile, he’s donated $1 million to grass-roots organizations to address social issues and received Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.

It may be that NFL owners believe Kaepernick brings too much “brand risk” to sign him. But perhaps a team that associates itself with his personal brand could be seen as progressive, offering a unique selling point to a declining viewership — and to NFL players, nearly 70 percent of whom are black.

Read more about the response to Kaepernick’s activism in the article by Darden Professor Morela Hernandez Joseph (Sonny) Siragusa (Class of 2018), “Why Colin Kaepernick May Be Just What the NFL Needs,” in the Darden School of Business/Washington Post “Case in Point” series.

The article is based on the case Colin Kaepernick and the NFL (Darden Business Publishing), by Morela Hernandez and Joseph (Sonny) Siragusa.

About the Faculty

Morela Hernandez

Hernandez is an expert on leadership, with research focusing on the ethics of leadership and the influence of diversity on organizational decision-making and processes.

Before coming to Darden, Hernandez worked in finance. She has also served as a leadership development coach at Duke University and the London Business School, as well... Learn More