Two young athletes with connections to Long Island appear in Nike’s newest “Just Do It” ad campaign, which also features former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Nike released the ad, called “Dream Crazy,” on Wednesday night after news of Kaepernick’s role as the face of the company’s campaign drew strong reactions on social media. The ad features a variety of athletes pursuing their sport of choice, from youth football to Serena Williams on the tennis court, with narration by Kaepernick.
Isaiah Bird, 10, a wrestler who was born without legs and is formerly of Long Beach, is the second athlete to appear on screen in the ad. Korey “KJ” Duff Jr., 12, of Calverton, appears about 40 seconds into the video with a clip from a football game in 2016.
Korey was captured on camera catching a football with one hand during a Suffolk County PAL Football game, a challenging feat that mirrored a catch made by New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014.
“Don’t picture yourself wearing OBJ’s jersey,” Kaepernick says in the Nike ad. “Picture OBJ wearing yours.”
Korey’s father, Korey Duff Sr., said his son was always practicing the one-handed catch, but only got to do it in a game once, resulting in the viral video.
Nike reached out to the family a few weeks ago about participating in an ad for the company after they had seen the 2016 clip.
Duff Sr., 33, of Riverhead, said they didn’t know the context of the ad at the time.
“I had no idea it was going to be a Kaepernick commercial until they sent me a preview yesterday,” he said. “It’s just beautiful,” he said of the ad.
Korey, now a seventh-grader at Riverhead Middle School who plays for the school football team, was excited, too, in his own way. He is often reserved, but his father said the ad got a smile out of him — a KJ stamp of approval. Both Duff and his son are fans of Beckham and Kaepernick.
“The fact that it was this commercial [KJ is in] makes it ultra big,” Duff said. “It’s always going to be remembered and played because of the significance and it’s beautiful to be part of it.”
Isaiah has received national attention as a wrestler since he was 6. He was featured in Newsday in 2014 when he was a wrestler for the Long Beach Gladiators and caught the eye of UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Weidman called Isaiah an inspiration and raised $14,000 for him and his family by hosting a fundraiser at his gym.
Isaiah and his family have since moved to Florida, said his mother, Bernadette Hopton.
Isaiah is the second athlete to appear in the video, with footage of him wrestling with another child.
“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do — good,” Kaepernick says in the narration. “Stay that way.”
Sandra Carreon-John, a Nike spokeswoman, said the featured athletes were carefully selected based on their personal stories.
“The current Just Do It Campaign celebrates some of the most inspirational athletes of today, who have chased crazy dreams no matter the obstacle or outcome,” she said in the statement. “They also embody the Just Do It spirit and are proud to leverage the power of sport to help move the world forward.”
Kaepernick has become a controversial figure in football after he began kneeling during the national anthem during NFL games in 2016 to protest racial inequality and police brutality. He left the 49ers in 2017 amid backlash from fans and NFL officials and has continued to work as an activist.
Nike announced Kaepernick would be the latest face of its “Just Do It” ads Monday with a San Francisco billboard and online ad featuring Kaepernick’s face and the phrase, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” The original announcement prompted responses both positive and negative, including calls for a boycott and criticism from President Donald Trump.