On Tuesday, Nike announced it shelved a Fourth of July-themed shoe, the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July, after Colin Kaepernick said the shoe would be offensive. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who was the face of Nike's 30th-anniversary campaign, enlightened the brand on the complicated history behind the 13-star flag featured on the shoe's heel.
Designed in 1776 by Betsey Ross, a Quaker seamstress in Philadelphia during the American Revolution, the flag has come to represent slavery and white supremacy. Because the flag originated in segregationist times (when there were only 13 states in the union), more recently, the Ku Klux Klan uses the Betsy Ross Flag in its propaganda. “It’s probably mainly a matter of these groups’ attempts to appropriate and fetishize the American Revolution for their own ugly (and historically inaccurate) purposes,” Scott P. Marler, associate professor of history at University of Memphis, tells CNBC in an email.
Now cognizant of the flag's ties to white supremacy, Nike is no longer selling the sneaker. The New York Times is reporting Sandra Carreon-John, a company spokeswoman, said in a statement on Tuesday that Nike had made the decision to “halt distribution” of the sneaker “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
Similar to the public outcry from alt-right fans of the brand when Kaepernick was announced as a brand ambassador, detractors are speaking out about Nike's decision to pull the shoe. Gov. Doug Ducey, Republican of Arizona, announced on Twitter that he is withdrawing incentives for Nike to build a manufacturing plant in the state that would have employed more than 500 people. “Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike," he tweeted. "We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history."
“It’s a good thing Nike only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican, wrote on Twitter. Herman Cain, the former Republican presidential candidate, tweeted, “Just so you know how this works now: Nothing can happen in America anymore if Colin Kaepernick doesn’t like it.”
Nike not only acknowledges Black buying power, which is now valued at $1.2 trillion, but the brand also fully endorses Kaepernick’s mission: In addition to paying the athlete as an ambassador, Nike will also give money to his “Know Your Rights” campaign, an organization he fully funds to “raise awareness on higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”
In an interview with ESPN, Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America, said: “We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.” And by supporting Kaepernick's protests against racial inequality and injustice, Nike is helping do just that.