North America

Nike pulls ‘Betsy Ross Flag’ sneaker after criticism of slavery-era imagery

Nike Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July shoes that have a US flag with 13 white stars in a circle on it, known as the Betsy Ross flag. Source: Obtained by Associated Press

Nike has cancelled the release of a sneaker that featured the 13-star “Betsy Ross flag” igniting the latest flare-up in the nation’s culture wars and causing the governor of Arizona to order the withdrawal of funding for a planned multimillion-dollar Nike factory in that state.

The decision by Nike to cancel a sneaker that featured the 13-star “Betsy Ross flag" was reportedly prompted by Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback and social-justice activist, who had privately criticised the design to Nike, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The athletic-wear company did not say why it had pulled the sneaker.

“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured an old version of the American flag,” Sandra Carreon-John, a spokeswoman for Nike, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., announced on Twitter that he would oppose the company’s plans by pulling back state support for a Nike plant that would have employed more than 500 people.


Nike had announced on Monday that it planned to open the factory in Goodyear, Arizona.

“I am embarrassed for Nike,” Ducey tweeted. “I’ve ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here.”

The governor added: “Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike. We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history.”

The heels of the Air Max shoe feature the flag, in which 13 white stars are arranged in a circle over the traditional field of blue. Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, is widely credited with creating the flag, although most scholars dispute that story as legend.

To many, the flag is merely a relic of America’s past. But it has, at least in recent years, appeared as a symbol of the slavery era in association with racist ideologies. According to a 2013 investigation by The Albany Herald in Georgia, at least some local Ku Klux Klan units were required to use either that flag or the Confederate flag at ritualistic meetings.

Prominent conservatives argued that Nike’s cancellation of the shoe was unpatriotic.

“Nike only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter.

Kaepernick became a face of the social-justice movement in 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and killings by police. Last year, Nike made Kaepernick the face of its “Just Do It” campaign celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary.

By Sandra E. Garcia and Niraj Chokshi © 2019 The New York Times

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