With all due respect to famed journalist Bob Woodward, whose recent book Fear details some of the "crazytown" aspects of the presidential reign of Donald Trump, it might just be sport that sticks the biggest spear in Trump's side.

American football, the NFL, outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick and now Nike are embroiled in that long-running row over Kaepernick's 2016 refusal to stand for the national anthem played ahead of NFL matches – instead taking a knee to protest the unpunished killings of blacks by police officers.

Nike's latest ad, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its "Just Do It" ad campaign, features Kaepernick with the slogan: "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."

Kaepernick is also 30 but is now out of a job after quitting the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 to become a free agent, leaving behind a US$14m salary. He became the subject of Trump's odium and has taken legal action against the NFL, alleging collusion among clubs for the way he has been unable to secure a position anywhere when 50 other quarterbacks, many of them less well-performed, have.


Let's pause at this stage and consider the unlovely scenario being played out here. US stats show that black males aged 15-34 are 9-16 times more likely to be shot by police than other people. So a reasonably well-known quarterback bends a knee in a silent public protest.

Trump strikes. No matter what you might think of him – empty capitalist who makes George W. Bush look like an intellectual or Trump as some kind of economic messiah – there is no denying his rat cunning.

Instead of addressing the issue – black deaths at the hands of police – Trump marginalises matters by making it all about the anthem and "respect for America", taking aim at Kaepernick and other NFL knee-benders. A visit to the White House by Super Bowl winners the Philadelphia Eagles is called off when several players say they won't attend in support of Kaepernick.

The NFL is populated 80 per cent by black players; politically the NFL is run by conservative old, rich white guys but the player base is left-leaning. Culturally, NFL players are similar to what we often see in sport here: carefully packaged and presented "team players" with little in the way of new or penetrating insights nor much individuality.

That traditional control being flouted has further incensed Trump's rednecks, happily burning their Nikes on social media, outraged about the knee-bending and Nike's championing of it. Bigotry leading to death by police was a little harder to defend, so crank up the barbecue, boys, we're having Nike steaks…and don't forget to clean those guns.

Ah yes, Nike…see the commercial cynicism as opposed to the political cynicism?

It's a company which, not so long ago, was defending itself from charges of having expensive sports equipment made in sweat shops. Now it is championing the underdog.

But these guys are the masters of marketing. They've done their homework, mined their data. They see Trump's approval rating at an all-time low of 36 per cent and figure 64 per cent disapproval is a good long-term bet.


Kaepernick's prospects have also risen since last week when he won a legal move to get his collusion case to go to trial. That means the NFL and all manner of witnesses will be under the microscope as Kaepernick tries to prove collusion (no easy feat as just listing all the other guys who got jobs when he didn't won't be enough).

The NFL is at a crossroads. Football is enormously popular in the US but audience figures are falling in sync with issues like racism and head injuries. The NFL and the clubs have also shot themselves in the foot. Because Kaepernick doesn't have a gig, the most heavily-publicised player in the NFL isn't in, er, the NFL.

In terms of marketing cock-ups, this is a proud beauty. Imagine the following the football team who first fields Kaepernick will garner (or would have garnered) had they signed him up. Imagine how well the NFL could have done out of it. Instead they are in court…

For Trump, the blowback is less direct but potentially still damaging. Many political observers believe his low approval ratings and Democrat hustling may already have done enough to tip the controlling majority of the upcoming House of Representatives election to the Democrats.

That means they could road block Trump's agenda (whatever it is that day) and tie his hands; they can launch investigations and explore impeachment.

It's drawing too long a bow to say the Kaepernick issue will play a major role in this. The court case won't play out in time for the elections, after all.

But…64 per cent disapproval rating and a commerce and marketing giant setting out its stall against Trump is a sign Nike think going against Trump might be good for business.

And maybe, just maybe, a sometimes blinkered nation is seeing clearly (and possibly for the first time for some), the weakness in the Presidential argument that NFL and football, America and Americans, will all be great again as long as everyone stands up for the national anthem.

If Trump can't even control football, how's he going to manage America? And what's that noise?

Just another black guy being shot…