Corporate Support for NFL Kneeling Will Cost Customers at Nike, ESPN and Elsewhere

For Release: September 26, 2017
Contact: Judy Kent at (703) 759-7476 or cell (703) 477-7476 or [email protected] and David W. Almasi at (703) 568-4727 or [email protected]

Corporate Support for NFL Kneeling Will Cost Customers at Nike, ESPN and Elsewhere

Free Enterprise Project Has Repeatedly Warned CEOs That Playing Politics is Pricey

Washington, D.C. – The politicization of professional sports, starkly apparent to all after several players took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem last weekend, is an issue the National Center for Public Policy Research has been addressing at the corporate level for years. Through its Free Enterprise Project (FEP), the National Center has been engaging in shareholder activism to promote objectivity and freedom of expression at companies such as Nike and ESPN (owned by the Walt Disney Company) that have been the enablers of such radicalism.

David Almasi“Many Americans are shocked and appalled to see so many players – and even entire teams — showing disrespect for our nation by not participating in the National Anthem and presentation of our flag. Several of these players are undoubtedly encouraged because they have been cheered on by the likes of ESPN and Nike,” said National Center Vice President David W. Almasi. “If this continues, it’s at further risk to professional football’s fan support and viewership. As it affects the NFL, it will also impact the companies enabling it. We’ve confronted Nike, ESPN and others about their radicalism, so they can’t say they weren’t warned when the backlash hurts their bottom line.”

FEP representatives use shareholder meetings to question corporate leaders about their overt support for left-wing causes that can put their companies at both a reputational risk with consumers as well as create workplace environments that can demand groupthink and might endanger the careers of those with differing views. FEP has participated in 21 different shareholder meetings in 2017 – and over 100 since 2014 – in defense of the free market and the principles of free speech and free expression that guided America’s founding.

Just last week, FEP criticized Nike at its shareholder meeting for failing to address whether its conservative and libertarian employees are safe from workplace retribution for personal political beliefs. FEP cited Nike CEO Mark Parker’s staff memo opposing the Trump Administration’s January executive order on immigration and travel that referenced “our values” and that “we don’t support” the policy as a company. Nike investor relations staff would not allow FEP’s full question to be asked at the September 21 shareholder meeting, and Parker would only say he was “proud” of the company’s positions and “we value the opinions of all of our employees.” In light of high-profile dismissals of employees at other companies for their personal political beliefs, Parker did not address if those “valued” opinions would be protected at Nike.

Since the shareholder meeting, and in the wake of the many incidents of kneeling at NFL games, Nike issued a statement saying the company “supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society.” Nike currently makes all NFL uniforms.

FEP also addressed liberal bias at ESPN at the Disney shareholder meeting in March. CEO Bob Iger, angered at the suggestion of bias at the network, called FEP’s assertions “completely exaggerated.” Yet the network later instituted new rules for on-air commentaryand social media. After host Jemele Hill recently called President Donald Trump a white supremacist in a tweet, ESPN President John Skipper sent out a memo to staff to remind them that “ESPN is about sports” and “not a political organization.”

This past Monday, ESPN ran nearly constant coverage and commentary about the kneeling at NFL games and President Trump’s reaction to it — most of it critical of the President.

Justin Danhof“FEP is the only organization that has taken up the issue of bias directly with the CEOs of Nike and of ESPN’s parent company, Disney. Others are content to sit on the sidelines and complain about these issues while we take our concerns right to the top. As a long-term investor, FEP knows that rampant anti-conservative bias is not a winning corporate strategy,” said National Center General Counsel and FEP Director Justin Danhof, Esq. “Corporations often take liberal positions to try and appeal to millennials and curry favor with the mainstream media. In the same way, many companies take conservatives for granted because right-wing folk tend to avoid protests and boycotts. There is ample evidence, however, that this corporate strategy is no longer working.

“For example, after Target threw its support behind open-bathroom policies that allow grown men to use the same store facilities as young girls, millions of conservative Christians boycotted and the company’s stock plummeted,” noted Danhof. “After Starbucks came out against President Trump’s initial executive order on immigration and travel, Business Insider reported that the company’s brand had ‘taken a beating.’ And ESPN is bleeding viewers, with strong evidence suggesting its rampant liberal bias is to blame. The company’s support for its employee who calls the President a ‘white supremacist’ and its wall-to-wall Trump-bashing will only ensure more people change the channel from the once-great sports network.”

Almasi added: “When it comes to sports reporting and athletic apparel, people have lots of choices. Half of American voters supported President Trump and probably support his policies today. When they discover that ESPN and Nike are stoking the protests against him, their preferences as a consumer will likely be affected. Both companies are already posting losses. They are now doubling-down on stupid.”

Launched in 2007, the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project is the nation’s preeminent free-market activist group — focusing on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. Since 2014, its representatives have participated in over 100 shareholder meetings to advance free-market ideals in health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers’ rights and other important public policy issues. FEP’s Employee Conscience Protection Project strengthened protections for the political beliefs and activities of over five million workers at 13 major U.S. corporations. FEP’s questioning of Boeing’s and General Electric’s support for the Clinton Foundation helped trigger an FBI investigation into the Foundation’s activities. Executives put on the spot by FEP at ABC News (Disney), the Washington Post and CNN (Time Warner) meetings acknowledged media bias.

FEP activity this year has been covered by media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Variety, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Drudge Report, Business Insider, National Public Radio and SiriusXM. FEP’s work was also featured in Wall Street Journal writer Kimberley Strassel’s 2016 book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech (Hachette Book Group).

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 60,000 active recent contributors. Tax-deductible donations to support the National Center’s programs are greatly appreciated and can be made here. Sign up for email updates here. Follow us on Twitter at @NationalCenter for general announcements. To be alerted to upcoming media appearances by National Center staff, follow our media appearances Twitter account at @NCPPRMedia.


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.