A patriotic Nike Air Max shoe has been pulled from shelves just ahead of Independence Day amid recent backlash. The Air Max 1 USA was supposed to go on sale to coincide with the July 4 holiday. However, activists — most notably former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — objected to the design, which featured the 13-star banner known as the Betsy Ross flag on the heel of the shoe.
So, why did Nike decide to pull the shoe, and what about that flag is offensive to some people? Read on for the history of the flag and the backlash that led Nike to discontinue the sneaker.
A brief history of the Betsy Ross flag.
Funnily enough, the flag named after Betsy Ross wasn't actually designed by the Revolutionary War-era seamstress according to modern historians. Ross was actually one of several flagmakers of the day and the only claim she made to its design was requesting the original six-point star be changed to five points because it would be easier to sew. Modern scholars agree Francis Hopkinson, the founding father who designed the first Great Seal of the United States, is more likely to be the designer of the first flag.
So why is it considered racist?
Well, it all comes down to the unfortunate fact that this flag was flown during slavery and therefore glorifies a time when the colonies fought only for the freedom of white male landowners. But this isn't the only reason activists have a problem with this version of the Stars and Stripes.
In recent years, white supremacist groups have flown the flag and used it in their propaganda, including the Ku Klux Klan and other far-right militia groups, either as a replacement for or alongside the Confederate flag. Racial equality advocacy groups like the NAACP have pointed to this usage as reason to avoid flying this version of our flag in lieu of the modern version, which features 50 stars on a field of blue.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Colin Kaepernick, who has endorsed the Nike brand and appeared in their ads, reached out to a company official expressing his disappointment in the design. Other activists were vocal about their opinions on Twitter.
They pulled it because that flag has been used as a symbol of hate by white extremists. It represents the original colonies that did not recognize black people as fully human.— 🇺🇸Snarky Blonde🇺🇸 (@Orvieto2016) July 2, 2019
The shoes had already shipped to stores, but Nike asked for them to be returned unsold and removed them from their websites. A spokeswoman later said, "“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured the old version of the American flag."
Predictably, the backlash to the backlash has already arrived, with conservatives calling for a ban of Nike (again). Texas senator Ted Cruz, for example, took to Twitter to characterize the move as "snide disdain for the American flag," and used the hashtag
I love America. I stand for the anthem, respect the flag & honor the men & women who fought to defend our Nation. I respect Free Speech & I’m exerting mine: until @Nike ends its contempt for those values, I WILL NO LONGER PURCHASE NIKE PRODUCTS. #WalkAwayFromNike RT if you agree. https://t.co/IvXNTgvlHq— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 2, 2019
Arizona governor Doug Ducey has also said he will withdraw financial incentives his state offered to encourage Nike to build a factory in Goodyear, just outside of Phoenix. According to CNN, the shoe brand had plans to buy an existing plant by June 2020 and invest $186 million in its expansion, but there's no word yet whether the governor's move will change those plans.
So far neither Kaepernick or Nike has made a public comment on this matter.