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NJ pension fund won't divest Nike shares following Kaepernick ad

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Managers of New Jersey’s $78 billion public worker pension fund said Thursday they will not divest from Nike stock, following requests by a member in September who was displeased with the shoe company’s ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The State Investment Council, which manages the pension fund, said at its meeting Thursday it will not sell its 312,000 shares of Nike stock, valued at $23.6 million.

Marty Barrett, a council member who represents retired police officers and firefighters, asked the council at its September meeting to consider divesting its Nike holdings.

Nike faced controversy and boycotts after they began using Kaepernick in their commercials in September. He garnered nationwide attention when he began kneeling during the National Anthem before games to protest police brutality.

At the September meeting, Barrett said that Nike’s “leadership has demonstrated poor judgement” in sponsoring the ad and “made one of the worst business decisions of all time,” according to the council’s Oct. 25 meeting minutes.

One of Nike’s most prominent ads depicts a black and white portrait of Kaepernick with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” superimposed over his face.

The committee cited a policy against using investment and engagement activities as a means to influence behavior, so long as the behavior in question does not impact the financial performance of the fund.

Following the Thursday meeting, Barrett’s reaction to reporters was mixed. On the one hand, he wanted to get across a message to Nike showing that New Jersey’s police officers and firefighters did not approve of the ad. But, he added, he didn’t want a divestment to hurt the fund’s performance.

“Originally when I put it in I was support [of divesting], but after talking to some of the people and the other members of the council, I do realize that it’s there to make money for public employees, and only our members would have suffered,” Barrett said. “I just hope Nike realizes that they may not have made a proper decision.”

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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