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.
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.
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.