Story updated at 2:01 p.m., Sept. 12.
DULUTH — At least two African American Georgia Baptist leaders have responded publicly opposing Truett McConnell University’s decision to end its relationship with Nike following the company’s controversial ad featuring Colin Kaepernick.
“I respect your right as an autonomous institution to make statements. However this is the type of divisiveness that causes African Americans to know where you truly stand,” Bernard Miller, associational mission strategist for State Association of Baptist Assemblies in Griffin, wrote on Facebook.
Miller’s post came two days after TMU President Emir Caner announced the Cleveland school would sever its relationship with Nike. That decision had come in response to Nike’s ad featuring former NFL quarterback Kaepernick.
This morning Jean Ward, pastor of East Atlanta Church, joined Miller with a Facebook post of his own.
“As the President of the African American Fellowship for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, a United States Army veteran, and a police chaplain, it brings me great disappointment and disparity to learn that you have chosen to take [a] stand along side the insensitive and disconnected Americans that have decided to protest NIKE for their ‘freedom of choice’ to use Colin Kaepernick as their new face of their brand,” said Ward.
The Atlanta pastor noted that in the past he has endorsed Caner and TMU as “a great school that our African American students should consider” in furthering their post-secondary education. “However,” he continued, “this stance reflects the lack of sensitivity the school has towards the cares, concerns, and emotional challenges that African Americans endure.”
A question of patriotism
Both ministers took exception to the anti-patriotic narrative surrounding Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the National Anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice towards people of color.
“The issue has never been the flag,” Miller said. “Kaepernick was encouraged to kneel by a white veteran. It’s amazing how we take stands against everything but institutional racism.”
“Colin Kaepernick took a stance against racial injustice,” stated Ward. “It was not against patriotism, but it was actually for patriotism. The patriotism that says all men (mankind) are created equally. The same patriotism that embraced your wife and family to be citizens (as you previously stated).”
In his Instagram post announcing the decision to cut ties with Nike, Caner had referenced his wife Hana’s becoming an American citizen as well as experiences growing up in her native Czechoslovakia under communism.
Both ministers encouraged a time of dialogue. Ward urged for consideration of how such decisions could affect minorities and that agencies must “better understand the cultural, emotional, and spiritual ramifications [that] could follow.”
“Please understand this open letter is in no form written to degrade or disrespect you,” he continued. “It is to bring to your consciousness the severity of your decision. I personally know your spirit and I trust you will take the opportunity to sit down with us, your fellow Africa American brothers in CHRIST, to discuss these issues so that we may be on one accord.”
Ward acknowledged to The Index that he and Caner spoke briefly on the matter during a break in Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting. “We’re attempting to arrange an opportunity to sit down and discuss the topic in person,” he said.