Unisolated incidents: Colin Kaepernick, Nike, and my experience as a Black journalist

Illustration by Felicity Travis.

I engaged my parking brake, unfastened my seatbelt and looked upon what was perhaps the most benign scene a reporter should ever expect to encounter.

A motorcycle was parked near a freeway onramp, its (presumed) rider was tending to a less-than-serious leg injury and a Roseville Police Department community service officer had responded to the call I’d heard on a scanner minutes earlier.

I was working as a reporter for the Roseville Press Tribune newspaper, my first full-time job of the sort, when I overheard some radio banter about a hit-and-run vehicle collision.

It was a slow news day and I had already filed my content for the upcoming print edition. The scene was worth checking out, even if it turned out to be nothing.

The officer wasted no time letting me know my place.

When I stepped out of my car, she immediately asked to see identification, which I willingly provided.

I took some photos of the scene, then approached the officer for a quote, expecting to reclaim my ID as well and be on my way.

She refused to speak on record and demanded to know where I’d been prior to arriving.

Still early in my tenure, my employer had not yet provided me with official credentials.

I offered her my business card and a days-old print edition of our publication, which would match my byline(s) with the name on the ID she had refused to give back while calling my identity and license plate in to dispatch.

According to the officer, the color of my vehicle – and my physical appearance – gave cause to believe I may have been the hit-and-run driver who injured the aforementioned biker.

She also expressed suspicion that the publication containing my byline(s) may have been a fabricated document.

In that instant, I was not a journalist, but a suspected criminal, who “fit the description.”

“You see what happens when you show up at a scene like this?” she asked, implying that my first amendment rights did not afford me the privilege to do my job.

Fortunately, she hadn’t taken my cell phone, which I used to call my editor, who spoke with the Chief of the Roseville Police department, who quickly arranged for my ID to be returned.

Perhaps it was a mere coincidence that Chief Daniel Hahn – the first and only black police chief in the city’s history (he has since moved on to become chief of police with the Sacramento Police Department) – had been available to address the matter.

At any rate, I was relieved to have an influential advocate.

In coming years, this incident would prove not to be an isolated one.

In my life as a young, Black journalist, I’m frequently made to explain who I am (despite credentials). I have increased barriers getting permission to be in places such as crime scenes, corporate offices, high school gymnasiums, eateries or coffee shops, and have often been asked what my intentions are with the cameras draped around my neck. I often must provide answers to other not-so-prudent inquires.

Of course, I usually provide said answers without much fuss, often while watching my non-Black peers walk past the same vigilant guardians without so much as the flash of a press pass.

You are not supposed to be here.”

This is absolutely not a direct quote, but it was the message that was clearly delivered to me during what should have been a forgettable day at work.

It had been just over two years since my interaction with the officer when I made the call to assign a photographer and reporter to nearby Turlock, the hometown of then San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.

I had moved on from the Press Tribune to work as an assignment editor at Sacramento’s local CBS station, which often broadcasts NFL games.

Kaepernick was less than two weeks into the protest that would eventually cost him his standing as an NFL quarterback. I insisted we take advantage of being in his hometown market.

The story was already of national interest, and voices from his earliest supporters would make our content unique.

The package was finished and went to air on our 10 p.m. broadcast.

The two years since have been well-documented, right up to this past Monday, when Nike ceremoniously made Kaepernick the primary face of a campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan.

Due to my experiences as a Black American – with law enforcement specifically – I have never needed to be convinced of Kaepernick’s logic for taking his recent actions, or the validity of their message.

In my young career, I have occasionally allowed my knowledge on matters regarding race to guide my news judgment.

My ability to do so while remaining objective and editorializing only when appropriate has made me an asset to my employers.

Like Chief Hahn during my uncomfortable experience at my first crime scene, I am fortunate enough to be an advocate for others and appreciate the circumstances that enable me to do so.

While backing Kaepernick is exclusively a capitalistic endeavor for Nike, it further enables him to advocate on a scale grander than myself or Hahn.

My career has now brought me to San Diego.

Kaepernick is viewed less than favorably by my current employer’s target demographic, and our content reflects as much.

While limited in how I can advocate journalistically at this time, I have made a point to do so economically.

Last week I made my way to San Diego’s Fashion Valley Mall with the intention of doing precisely that.

While glancing through the inventory in a department store that will remain unnamed, I heard an employee call for “customer assistance to the Nike menswear section,” on the store’s PA system.

Upon hearing the call, I looked up from the pile of swoosh-branded apparel I had been browsing to see another man, presumably of similar age, with dreadlocks a few inches longer than my own and dark skin, shopping in the same section.

“Did you call for help?” I asked him.

“No. Did you?” he responded.

The two of us were the only people in the section. Perhaps were “weren’t supposed to be.”

Without further information, I wouldn’t presume the department store employees were engaging in behavior similar to that of the officer I encountered on the job years ago. But I can say if that were the case, the incident wouldn’t be an isolated one.

Parties in opposition to Kaepernick often commandeer dialogue by deflecting focus from these all-to-common occurrences.

The prominence of a brand like Nike will likely give him a channel to better dictate terms of engagement, and hopefully continue the progress he has already made with his campaign, so perhaps in future cases, people who are told they aren’t supposed to be somewhere can advocate for their own humanity with something more powerful than a pair of sneakers.


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Jorden P. Hales
Jorden P. Hales
Jorden P. Hales is a pan-African writer and broadcast news producer. Originally from Sacramento and now based in San Diego, he primarily covers local news and matters concerning the African diaspora. He also enjoys covering sports and popular culture on all mediums.