Constitutional Freedoms

Nike, Meet Barronelle Stutzman: She Believes in Something, She May Lose Everything

This Washington State flower shop owner's convictions could cost her a business, her life savings and her home

World-famous athletic clothing manufacturer Nike put itself in hot water this week by featuring kneeling former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in ads telling Americans to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Nike, meet Barronelle Stutzman, a Richland, Washington, woman who believes in something with all her heart even though it literally may cost her everything.

Stutzman is a client of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal aid group that defends religious freedom. Nine times in recent years ADF has taken cases to the Supreme Court and won victories for the First Amendment, including most recently in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Why should Nike meet Stutzman? Here’s how the ADF explains her case:

“Barronelle runs a family business, the floral shop that her mother started called Arlene’s Flowers. She and her husband live on a small farm in rural Washington. For them, faith and family come first — she’s a Christian, a mother, and a grandmother.

“By most standards, Barronelle lives a quiet life. Well, let’s just say, it was a quiet life … until March 2013. When Barronelle’s longtime customer, Rob Ingersoll, walked into the shop that day, she never expected that her life was about to change … And she had no reason to.

“Barronelle had served Rob for nearly 10 years, designing floral arrangements for all sorts of occasions in his life – birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. She knew Rob was in a relationship with another man, and Rob knew Barronelle was a Christian.

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“But that March, Rob had a different type of request. He asked Barronelle to design floral arrangements celebrating his same-sex wedding. Barronelle took his hand in hers and gently explained that she could not take on that particular request because of her religious beliefs about marriage.

“She then gave him the names of three other floral artists in the area that she knew would do a good job. Rob said he understood, they hugged, and he left.”

But that was the beginning of Stutzman’s trial of faith, not simply the end of an awkward encounter for two people with radically different views about the nature of marriage and the role of religious faith in their lives.

When Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson heard about the incident, the state sued her personally and her business. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — which for decades before had routinely defended First Amendment rights — also filed litigation against Stutzman.

“That means Barronelle could lose not only her business, but also her and her husband’s home, their farm, their savings, their retirement, and everything they’ve put aside for their kids and grandkids,” according to ADF.

“You have to make a stand somewhere in your life on what you believe and what you don’t believe. It was just a time I had to take a stand,” Stutzman told ADF.

So what is Kaepernick sacrificing in order to stand up for his beliefs, most famously expressed in 2016 when, as a protest against racial injustice, he refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem before kickoff at NFL games?

He’s not doing the Nike ads for free, but, according to The Washington Post, “It’s a top-level football deal, a deal that reflects him as an icon and an athlete, not just an athlete.”

“You have to make a stand somewhere in your life on what you believe and what you don’t believe. It was just a time I had to take a stand.”

Although terms were not announced, that means it’s a multi-year agreement and certainly will pay Kaepernick multiple millions of dollars. His appearance in the ads will also elevate his public persona, a fact that could add more millions of dollars to his market value as a spokesman.

Making millions of dollars years ago became routine for Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to the 2013 Super Bowl and suffered a heart-breaking last-minute loss to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens. Even so, he and the 49ers agreed to a six-year, $115 million contract extension in June 2014.

But then his career on the field took a nose dive, thanks to injuries that sharply reduced his playing time, and disruption on the team’s roster and in its coaching ranks. By the time Kaepernick first kneeled at an NFL game in 2016, he was a second-stringer.

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The 49ers later cut him and he has declined subsequent offers from other teams. The Denver Broncos, for example, offered him $7 million in a two-year deal that he refused. He has also talked with the Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks, but nothing has developed.

His kneeling sparked a controversy that continues to the present and he has become the subject of intense criticism from a host of Americans who view his act as disrespectful of the sacrifices of the millions of men and women who have fought and died for this country in combat.

President Donald Trump quickly made an issue of Kapernick’s kneeling and roundly criticized the NFL’s confused response when dozens of other players followed the former 49er star’s lead. Television ratings for NFL games declined, too, according to Nielsen, which reported a 9.7 percent drop in 2017, compared to 2016.

It’s not clear if Nike will gain or lose as a result of its featuring Kaepernick in its ad campaign. Shortly after the campaign was made public, the internet saw numerous protesters burning various items of Nike apparel and the firm’s stock value took a huge hit.

Nike’s online sales numbers have increased by 31 percent since the Kaepernick campaign was released. A report from Edison Trends noted that some increase would be expected due to sales over the Labor Day Weekend, as Market Watch pointed out — but this year’s increase is nearly twice that seen last year over the same period.

Plus, Nike remains the NFL’s official apparel supplier and the kneeling controversy is unlikely to hurt its international sales, the source of most of its revenues. So it seems doubtful Nike is sacrificing anything in backing Kaepernick.

LifeZette has asked Nike for comment on Barronelle’s case.

meet the author

Mark Tapscott manages LifeZette's political coverage. He is an elected member of the First Amendment Center's Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame, has testified before Congress on transparency in government, and is a former CPAC Conservative Journalist of the Year. Reach him at [email protected].