Nike Pulls Old Glory Flag After Kaepernick Complaint

The ex-athlete has picked a bizarre target.

Former NFL backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick is in the news again. Most famous for his refusal to stand for the National Anthem, he’s now protesting the display of the original “Betsy Ross” flag on a pair of sneakers.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story yesterday but, alas, put it behind a paywall. ESPN and other outlets are re-reporting it:

Nike struck down a plan to release a shoe featuring the original version of the U.S. flag this week at the request of Colin Kaepernick, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The shoe, the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July, featured a logo of the original U.S. flag, the design of which by popular lore is credited to Betsy Ross, with 13 stars in a circle.

The Journal reports that Kaepernick told Nike it shouldn’t use that version of the flag, as he and others consider it an offensive symbol due to its connection to a time when slavery was legal.

In a statement, Nike said it chose not to release the shoe “as it featured an old version of the American flag.”

Nike released a second statement later Tuesday, saying that the decision also was “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s top patriotic holiday.”

“We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services,” the second statement said. “NIKE made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.

“Nike is a company proud of its American heritage and our continuing engagement supporting thousands of American athletes including the US Olympic team and US Soccer teams. We already employ 35,000 people in the U.S. and remain committed to creating jobs in the U.S., including a significant investment in an additional manufacturing center which will create 500 new jobs.”

I’m old enough to remember when it was considered offensive to put images of the American flag on clothing—much less shoes—to make a buck. So I’m not particularly offended by Nike’s business decision here. Still, the notion that the “Betsy Ross” flag (which almost certainly had nothing to do with Betsy Ross) is a symbol of slavery is borderline moronic.

For a variety of reasons, I thought Kaepernick and others hijacking the National Anthem to draw attention to their cause problematic. But their cause—the routine brutality by predominantly white police officers around the country towards African-American males—was certainly worthy of highlighting.

But this?

It’s doubtless true that slavery was baked into the American system and tarnished the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. That original sin eventually sparked the Civil War of 1860-65 and its legacy continued with Jim Crow era that predominated for another century afterwards. Its ripple effects are still with us today.

Still, the 13-star flag of the union was never a symbol of slavery but rather of independence. Slavery was simply a defect that detracts from the mythology surrounding the flag.

It’s in no way analogous to the stars and bars of the Confederate battle flag. While that logo became a symbol of many things to my fellow Southerners, its origins were inextricably tied to slavery. And its rebirth as a symbol of the Southland was primarily a middle finger to efforts by the Supreme Court and Congress to dismantle Jim Crow and make the Declaration’s “all men are created equal” closer to reality.

While I can see how Kaepernick might reject it, the original American flag was the beginning of that fight. American slavery long predated our independence; indeed, it predated the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. But the articulation of an American creed built on justice and equality for all forced us to, over time, live up to it.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Race and Politics, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    It seems weird to me, too. But if part of the target audience doesn’t like your product, it probably makes sense to pull it. There are certainly things that I am idiosyncratic in not liking.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Still, the notion that the “Betsy Ross” flag (which almost certainly had nothing to do with Betsy Ross) is a symbol of slavery is borderline moronic.

    While I have supported Kaepernick’s and the player protests regarding the treatment of African-Americans by law enforcement, this is silly and Nike is gutless for not calling him on it.

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  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    A minute or two of googling show that as the confederate flag has become unacceptable in public, a number of white supremacist groups have begun using the Betsy Ross flag as a replacement. This is a lot like the OK hand sign: completely harmless a year or two ago, but if you’re doing it now, it means something else.

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  4. Teve says:

    Lotta Ted Cruz types on Twitter trying to make a big stink out of this right now, because they think they’ll look better than what’s on the front page at the moment.

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  5. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I read just that at The Guardian’s website this morning. It makes for a better explanation, and the one Nike should have gone with. Let’s see the GOP more mad at a shoe company, than at white supremacists usurping… Oh, we know that wouldn’t happen.

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  6. DrDaveT says:

    Still, the notion that the “Betsy Ross” flag (which almost certainly had nothing to do with Betsy Ross) is a symbol of slavery is borderline moronic.

    Seriously. I mean, how could anyone ever think that the flag of a nation that practiced and protected slavery could become a symbol of white superiority?

    Still, the 13-star flag of the union was never a symbol of slavery but rather of independence.

    For whites. Your privilege is showing.

    I’m not saying Kaepernick is right here, but your dismissal of his point is frankly fatuous. What that flag symbolizes to you is not relevant.

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  7. JKB says:

    This stinks as a PR stunt by Nike. Who doesn’t get their Special run-of-the-mill Fourth of July shoe on sail before the holiday? Were they seeking to help the parade on the National Mall? Maybe they expect higher sales from anti-American neo-abolitionists

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Meh.

  9. Gustopher says:

    The Journal reports that Kaepernick told Nike it shouldn’t use that version of the flag, as he and others consider it an offensive symbol due to its connection to a time when slavery was legal.

    Well, he’s not actually wrong. The founding of our country was only possible because of the compromise on slavery.

    And, as @Stormy Dragon points out it is being appropriated by the white supremacy movement.

    I wonder whether an old glory that leaves off the stars for the slave states would be too subtle of a symbol. On a sneaker, probably. And 3/5ths stars for the slave states would be unnoticeable.

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  10. Teve says:

    Ted Cruz
    @tedcruz
    Yep, I own lots of
    @Nike
    I’ve been a life-long customer, since I was kid. But they’ve now decided their shoes represent snide disdain for the American flag. Since they don’t want my business anymore, I won’t buy any more. Can anyone recommend a good sneaker co that’s not so woke?

    12:01 PM · Jul 2, 2019 · Twitter for iPhone

    Tony Posnanski
    @tonyposnanski

    Replying to
    @tedcruz
    and
    @Nike
    Why don’t you put two Chick Fil-A bags on your feet and then go fuck yourself.

    Derek
    @DerekusMaximus1

    Replying to
    @tedcruz
    and
    @Nike
    Whatever you choose make sure they are comfortable for when you are on your knees in front of this president.

    Trent Capelli
    @TrentCapelli

    Replying to
    @tedcruz
    and
    @Nike
    Pretty sure Nike is going to be ok. Out of shape, white racists isn’t really their demographic.

    PamLeitterman
    @pleitter

    Replying to
    @tedcruz
    and
    @Nike
    Senator Cruz, if you’re more outraged by Nike than ongoing racial injustice, and children in cages without soap and toothbrushes, your priorities are tragically out of whack.

    Ig Castro
    @DickBenedict

    Replying to
    @tedcruz
    and
    @Nike
    Omg they are just shoes- focus on cleaning up those concentration camps and maybe reunite children with their parents, Air Complicit.

    Malynda Hale
    @MalyndaHale

    Replying to
    @tedcruz
    and
    @Nike
    Weren’t you already boycotting them?

    Steve 949
    @steve_949

    Replying to
    @tedcruz
    and
    @Nike
    You honestly think Nike wanted to be the go-to brand for white supremacists? That was what you thought?

    And it goes on, and on, and on…

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  11. Slugger says:

    Did this actually happen? Did some guy, no matter who he is, call up someone at Nike and get them to make a change? Can one person or even a committed group of activists really impact a Fortune 100 company?

  12. EddieInCA says:

    I often proudly wear a Kaepernick jersey to work. I’m going to make sure I wear my Nike’s on those days as well.

    I’m fortunate to work for a company that allows me to do so. Heck, that same company is trying to get Kaepernick to appear on one of it’s shows.

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  13. EddieInCA says:

    @Slugger:

    Can one person or even a committed group of activists really impact a Fortune 100 company?

    Back in the day… No. Today…. absolutely. All it takes is one viral statement/comment/video to bring a world of hurt to ANY company.

    Part of me is convinced that Trump cronies (looking at your Scaramucci and Cohn), are making millions of dollars playing the market based on Trump’s tweets.
    A. Trump tweets something stupid.
    B. Scaramucci goes short.
    C. Market tanks, Scaramucci makes money.
    D. Scaramucci covers his short, and goes long, waiting for the inevitable walkback by Trump.
    E. Trump tweets the walkback, or concession.
    F. Market rebounds. Scaramucci makes money.

    Repeat with NK, China, Germany, Canada, Mexico, etc., etc.

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  14. Teve says:

    by far the funniest conservative responses to the Nike shoes on Twitter is “oh yeah well if Nike hates America then screw them I’m going to start buying Converse from now on!”

  15. Teve says:

    OT: census question fight is over; forms will be printed without citizenship question.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Thanks for the update. This makes a lot of sense, including the credible deniability, like the “OK” sign. It’s great to have it both ways.

    The situation is vexing though. Is it enough for a White Supremacist “group”, no matter how small, or ineffectual, to use a symbol to taint it from any further use, regardless of how much it might have been used in a more positive way in the past?

    I have a strong desire to support and encourage black Americans. And, they can have us shooting at shadows, and looking like fools to people who aren’t “in” on the double meaning. I think we need a more effective counter to this sort of tactic. Maybe the whole thing can be reversed? I don’t really know.

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  17. Ol Nat says:

    @Stormy Dragon and @Kate point out that the symbol has been co-opted.

    …a number of white supremacist groups have begun using the Betsy Ross flag as a replacement. This is a lot like the OK hand sign: completely harmless a year or two ago, but if you’re doing it now, it means something else.

    @James, do you have a good way of dealing with this misrepresentation? Or do you feel the issue is small enough that it’s not really a problem? In the OK hand signal case we are being trolled. In the flag case, “students … [used the flag for] ‘intentional actions of intimidation and rooted in no agenda other than to insult, to injure, and to incite.'” Either way the new associations are unsavory.

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  18. Kathy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Part of me is convinced that Trump cronies (looking at your Scaramucci and Cohn), are making millions of dollars playing the market based on Trump’s tweets.

    I wouldn’t be surprised. But to be fair, anyone else could make the same plays in the market based on the Twit’s Tweets, right?

    If he informed them in advance, though, would that be legal? What if he also passed them laundered money of his own? Elon Musk got fined for Tweeting about his plans for his company

  19. Teve says:

    @Ol Nat: easy to miss though, I live in the Deep South and am in direct contact with all kinds of white racists all the time and them using the Betsy Ross flag was a new one to me.

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  20. Teve says:

    @Kathy: if Trump told somebody “hey wait till tomorrow, I’m going to put huge tariffs on burrito wrappers”, and they went online and bought and sold burrito wrapper futures based on non-public information like that, I bet it would qualify as insider-trading, although I’m not a professional or expert in that subject.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Were they seeking to help the parade on the National Mall?

    Oh please…the trash in the White House is already trying to manipulate the July 4th celebration so that he won’t get booed and so that he can turn it into a campaign event…this cowardly wimp will never realize that real patriotism is not having some wannabe tin-pot dictator hanging out with fat cat donors and surrounded by military vehicles…

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  22. Mikey says:

    @An Interested Party: Man, this really pisses me off. This fucking disaster stinking up the Oval Office wants to take a celebration that is about and for all of us and turn it into a taxpayer-funded campaign rally complete with a “VIP section” populated by his fat-cat donors, and turn the military into a campaign prop as well.

    Fucking disgusting. He soils everything.

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  23. rachel says:

    @An Interested Party: I wish someone would hack the loudspeaker system to have it play, “Boo!” on continuous loop for as long as Boss Tweet is present.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @An Interested Party: The 4th in the Capitol is starting to smell like the Trump, Bialystock, and Bloom production of the Inaugural.

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  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Is it enough for a White Supremacist “group”, no matter how small, or ineffectual, to use a symbol to taint it from any further use, regardless of how much it might have been used in a more positive way in the past?

    The swastika was a symbol of peace for centuries, but it’s obviously now unusable for that purpose. And maybe that guy wearing the swastika t-shirt sincerely just wants to reclaim its past meeting, but it’s far more likely he’s a gas-lighting Nazi.

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  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Just because a group of ass hats co-opt a symbol doesn’t mean the public at large should cede it to them. Who the f@&# are they to come and take a symbol?

    You want to know the biggest symbol of slavery? Capitalism. Kaper-Dick seems to have ZERO problem with that symbol. He’s an idiot….If my community had better sense we’d leave the entertainer-crusader model for social change in the 60s right next to boycotts and protests.

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  27. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Not surprisingly…

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/mcconnell-says-he-will-order-first-pair-of-american-flag-shoes-if-nike-reverses-decision

    … Because for the GOP it’s all about “owning the libs”. Nationalism, not patriotism.

    I’m not surprised he’s not “rolling coal”.

    https://www.wmky.org/post/mcconnell-applauds-rollback-anti-coal-regulation

    Oh. Nevermind.

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  28. Andy says:

    Personally, I’m getting pretty sick and tired of all this virtue signaling, culture war BS. I just don’t care either way.

    I’m going to buy Nike’s because they fit well and I’m going to eat at Chik fil a because they have the best chicken and cleanest bathrooms. I’m not going to care about anything Kaepernick does or says unless the Broncos hire him in which case he better take us to the effing super bowl and win. I’m going to make a t-shirt for my daughter that shows Che Guevarra holding an AR-15 with the words “An armed society is a polite society. Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” in balloon-text coming from Che’s mouth.

    Ok, I’m kidding about the last one, but I’m tempted.

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  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Not a high bar to jump and they can’t even get over that bar.

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I don’t buy Nike shoes (and live about 50 miles from Nike HQ) because I can’t justify the extra expense, and the last they’re built on is a little narrow for my wide flat feet. I don’t think Nike should make flag shoes because it’s tacky (and I saw the picture of them and they were trop uggo).

  31. Timothy Watson says:

    Nike cancels a pair of ass-ugly shoes and the Russian disinformation campaign immediately blames Kaepernick.

    It’s hilarious too that wingnuts that want to ban flag desecration have no problem with people wearing an American flag representation on their feet.

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  32. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    a number of white supremacist groups have begun using the Betsy Ross flag as a replacement.

    That’s interesting and not something I was aware of. But, at least according to the ESPN report on the WSJ report, that’s not what Kaepernick is arguing. He’s saying it’s a symbol of slave America, not modern white supremacy.

    This is a lot like the OK hand sign: completely harmless a year or two ago, but if you’re doing it now, it means something else.

    So, fck weirdos and their cooption of symbols. I suppose there’s a point where it becomes the primary association but, absent other evidence, I’m going to keep assuming that when I see the okay sign, people mean “okay.”

    @Gustopher:

    And 3/5ths stars for the slave states would be unnoticeable.

    The 3/5 Compromise is in the Constitution, written well after independence. (Then again, the “1776” “Betsy Ross” flag probably didn’t come into existence until the 1790s.)

    @Ol Nat:

    @James, do you have a good way of dealing with this misrepresentation? Or do you feel the issue is small enough that it’s not really a problem?

    I see it as a small issue but one that could potentially get bigger. But, again, Kaepernick isn’t arguing that the flag has become a symbol of modern-day white supremacist groups but rather than it’s a reminder of a time when America had slaves. Considering America has slaves from roughly 1605 to 1865, a lot of things fit that category and the flag is obviously a symbol of other things as well. And, hell, white supremacists fly the current American flag, the Christian cross, and various other symbols, too. We can’t ban all of them.

    @DrDaveT:

    I’m not saying Kaepernick is right here, but your dismissal of his point is frankly fatuous. What that flag symbolizes to you is not relevant.

    I’m not arguing that he doesn’t have a right to an opinion; I’m saying his opinion, at least as relayed in the ESPN crib of the WSJ report, is bizarre.

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  33. Teve says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: Mitch McConnell waddling around in a new pair of Air Force 1s in closeup on national tv would be the worst conceivable outcome for Nike. The VP of Marketing would probably wash down a bottle of benzos with artisinal vodka and go for a swim in the Pacific.

  34. HelloWorld! says:

    I definitely won’t eat at Chick-Fil-A (though they appear to be changing)…but, Chick-Fil-A was actively discriminating. This Nike issue is revisionist history, and I don’t see a difference between what they are doing to the flag, and what ISIS is/was doing to historic artifacts. Kaepernick and Nike have crossed the line into zen-fascism. Becoming so open minded and accepting that you are intolerant and oppressive is scary enough to loose my business.

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  35. grumpy realist says:

    @Andy: That tee-shirt design sounds fantastic. I’d buy one! (And am not that much into buying tee-shirts with logos on them. Somewhere I’ve got my “smile! Cthulhu loves you!” tee-shirt (smiley face with batwings and tentacles) and several tee-shirts from one of the start-ups I worked at but that’s about it….)

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  36. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy:

    I’m going to make a t-shirt for my daughter that shows Che Guevarra holding an AR-15 with the words “An armed society is a polite society. Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” in balloon-text coming from Che’s mouth.

    I’d buy 3 of those.

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  37. Tyrell says:

    @EddieInCA: I haven’t bought any Nike stuff in years. I try to avoid wearing items that have logos on them – that is giving free advertising to millionaires.
    Kaepernick was just average. Why Nike got him I’ll never know. The Betsy Ross flag is not racist. I don’t know where he got that. Maybe next year Nike will go with the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. I see a lot of those around. Let him try complaining about that one – won’t work.

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  38. Andy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Thanks! I like your, actual, shirt. There don’t seem to be many of us who find Cthulu meme’s interesting.

  39. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    So, fck weirdos and their cooption of symbols. I suppose there’s a point where it becomes the primary association but, absent other evidence, I’m going to keep assuming that when I see the okay sign, people mean “okay.”

    Which is exactly what white supremacists want you to do, because it means they now get to use you as camouflage. They can signal each other openly and publicly intimidate their victims (who still know exactly what their intent is) but then claim to just be fighting co-option of a symbol.

    The symbol has been co-opted. The choice you have is whether you care more about the damn okay-sign or about the people its being used against.

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  40. Tyrell says:

    @Stormy Dragon: This misguided move will do one thing for sure – increase sales of that flag. Few people would have even noticed it on that shoe.
    A lot of people display the US flag and the unusual “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. There are already lots of flags and decorations up for the 4th.
    Nike’s move will probably increase business – for Under Armor and Adidas.

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  41. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Tyrell:

    This misguided move will do one thing for sure – increase sales of that flag.

    …to fascists.

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  42. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Well, there are 20 million dead Russians, 6 million Jews, several million more allied soldiers and civilians who all died under the swastika. So it has earned it.

    Meanwhile, some pissant Nazi wannabes get to forever taint something even though there is maybe only a few hundred of them. It kinda seems to me like there’s a difference.

    Trump soils the flag every time he hugs it. Does that mean I should avoid the American flag?

    I want to be clear. When push comes to shove, I will support black Americans against white supremacists. I know which side I’m on. But I worry that we give them too much ground, make them too scary.

    And if I’m slow coming up to speed on some of this, that probably does reflect my privilege. I’m not sure what I could be doing differently, though…

  43. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not arguing that he doesn’t have a right to an opinion; I’m saying his opinion, at least as relayed in the ESPN crib of the WSJ report, is bizarre.

    I get that. And I’m saying that your opinion of his opinion is uninformed, and that you have little standing to have an opinion about his opinion in the first place. I suspect that Mr. Kaepernick cares as little about your opinion of his opinion as you do about my opinion of your opinion.

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  44. Teve says:

    When Nike announced that Kaepernick ad on Sept 3 2018, their stock dipped $3 the next day, to like $79.75. If you bought at that dip, congratulations, it’s currently over $86, so you’ve made about 8-9% in 10 months, compared to the broader DJIA, which made about 3-4%.

  45. Teve says:

    Nike should really get creative and pay an Indonesian subcontractor to manufacture shoes with Confederate Flags on them and the Adidas logo. 😀

    anonymously dump them at outlets in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and South Cackalacky.

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  46. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    The WSJ put a report saying that Kaepernick said that the flag reminded people of slavery, we don’t know the real reason. The problem is that far-right loves to use national flags(Whether the current or former versions). In Brazil there is a complaint that the f* National team jersey was hijacked by the far-right.

    I think that unless it’s something about the World Cup is not healthy to have the national flag being used as decoration. The idea of having the national flag everywhere is not healthy.

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  47. Andy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Which is exactly what white supremacists want you to do, because it means they now get to use you as camouflage.

    So what should we do if the white supremacists coopt “Biden 2020” as a secret code to camouflage their activities?

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  48. Teve says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    Andre Kenji de Sousa says:
    Wednesday, July 3, 2019 at 13:22
    The WSJ put a report saying that Kaepernick said that the flag reminded people of slavery, we don’t know the real reason. The problem is that far-right loves to use national flags(Whether the current or former versions). In Brazil there is a complaint that the f* National team jersey was hijacked by the far-right.

    I think that unless it’s something about the World Cup is not healthy to have the national flag being used as decoration. The idea of having the national flag everywhere is not healthy.

    In a weird coincidence w/r/t this conversation, I have a pair of Onitsuka Tigers that are the colors of the Brazilian Flag! 😀 😛 😀 😛 😀 😛 😀 😛 😀 😛

  49. USA says:

    I like this style of Nike and these I would have bought. If Nike wants to be un- American I can to. I will start buying Adidas)))

  50. Guarneri says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Take it up with Obama. He had it hanging at his inauguration.

  51. Tyrell says:

    “You’re a grand old flag,
    you’re a high flying flag
    and forever in peace may you wave,
    You’re the emblem of
    the land I love,
    the home of the free and the brave”(Cohan)
    How about that, Mr. Kaepernick?

  52. An Interested Party says:

    If Nike wants to be un- American I can to.

    How is what they’re doing “un- American”? If they’re doing it to make a few extra bucks, they’re being very American…

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