NJ Investment Council Won’t Pull Its Nike Shares over Kaepernick Ad

Acting chair says the shoemaker’s shares have been strong, and the fund ‘decided to not take a position’ on controversial campaign due to the organization’s ESG policy.

Despite pushback from police and firefighter advocates, the $78.18 billion New Jersey State Investment Council will not pull its Nike shares following a controversial advertising campaign.

The campaign, which features former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other athletes such as LeBron James and Serena Williams, has drawn the ire of many, including Marty Barrett, a member of the Investment Council’s board of trustees who represents the state’s police and firefighter fund. Barrett suggested the state body divest its 312,000 Nike shares (valued at $$22.8 million at Thursday’s close), as he believes the campaign disrespects the military and first responders who died on September 11.

Kaepernick drew ire by kneeling during the nation anthem in protest of police brutality when he played for the San Francisco 49ers. Part of Nike’s campaign is a black and white photograph of Kaepernick’s face with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” superimposed over it. 

Although the council voted to review its Nike holdings last month, its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) committee ultimately decided it would keep the shoemaker in its portfolio at Thursday’s meeting. 

Adam Liebtag, the State Investment Council’s acting chairman, told NJ.com that the stock has done well for the fund, and that the organization’s ESG policy “states clearly that we should not be making investment decisions to change social behavior or to take a political position.”

“So, in adherence with our policy, we decided to not take a position one way or the other on the social or political question behind the Nike campaign,” said Liebtag.

Nike’s new “Just Do It” ad has resulted in a division of its fanbase. Many people have abandoned the brand, and others have demanded public pension funds that manage the retirements of police and firefighters, such as the State of Wisconsin Investment Board ($117 billion), the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association ($48.2 billion), and the Oregon ($70.7 billion) and Ohio ($91.2 billion) public employee retirement systems, send the sportswear company a message by divesting.

Recent political statements made by pension funds have resulted in pulling gun stocks, private prison contractors, and fossil fuel investments, but Nike’s ad campaign has yet to generate a similar reaction from these institutions.

Barrett was disappointed with his organization’s decision but understood that “it’s there to make money for the public employees and only our members would have suffered more.” He told reporters that he hopes Nike discovers that it “may not have made a proper decision” by running the campaign.

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