There was a lot of confusion and outrage this week when Nike quietly dropped plans for a sneaker with the Betsy Ross-style American flag on it, reportedly because of Colin Kaepernick. As the story has evolved, so has the response on social media.
It has been hard to straighten out the story when it comes to Nike's Air Max 1 USA, a sneaker that was meant to come out for the Fourth of July. The shoe was embroidered with Betsy Ross' original design for the American flag, with a circle of 13 stars in the corner rather than an array of 50.
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Nike had dropped the call after receiving a call from the company's sponsored athlete Colin Kaepernick. The activist reportedly advised the company to drop the planned shoe, calling the flag an "offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery."
This was not entirely accurate, it soon turned out. It was not Kaepernick himself who decided that the flag was offensive, but white supremacist groups around the nation. Kaepernick merely pointed out to Nike that radical organizations like Identity Evropa, an avowed white supremacist group, had used the flag to symbolize a time when slavery was legal.
It appears that Kaepernick warned the company he works privately that the Betsy Ross flag was already being co-opted by domestic terrorists. Still, as the story spread online many assumed or inferred that Kaepernick himself had decided that the flag was now offensive.
This sparked a cultural and symbolic argument that shows no signs of slowing or stopping just yet, and it is only getting uglier. Kaepernick is already a figure of contention for his NFL protests, which many interpreted as anti-police, anti-military and anti-American. Now that he is attached to this decision from Nike, he is more controversial than ever.
Here is a look at some of the outrage sparked by Nike's canceled Air Max 1 USA.
Hey @Nike .. out shopping for few new shirts today.. kinda liked these, and was about to buy until I saw your logo on them.. I'm passing now thanks to your @Kaepernick7 #BetsyRossFlag bullshit pic.twitter.com/oe2zM1rvU4— Erik 🍀 (@edschminke) July 6, 2019
First, and perhaps most predictably, came the Nike protests and boycotts. Opponents of Kaepernick vowed not to purchase or wear Nike products anymore, as they did when the company first signed Kaepernick up for an endorsement deal.
As many experienced activists pointed out, this was a hollow gesture, as Nike had already counted those dollars gone. The company knew that it was taking a strong stance by endorsing Kaepernick in the first place, yet it calculated that the rewards would outweigh the risks.prevnext
Injustice in Production
Many people on both sides of the issue pointed out that it ignored pressing issues in the current day, such as sweatshop-like working conditions for Nike's employees. The company has a long history of over-working and underpaying the employees overseas who make the sneakers, and the conditions have often been compared to a modern equivalent of slavery.
For some, it was disingenuous of Kaepernick to worry about historical symbols of slavery when the shoes themselves could be construed as a symbol of slavery today. By the same token, many argued that Kaepernick's opponents should have been boycotting the company a long time ago because of these conditions, not because of a flag controversy.prevnext
Anti-Kaepernick activists did more than boycott Nike to make their outrage known. Painter Scott LoBaido set up an easel outside of Nike's headquarters, where he simply painted the Betsy-Ross style flag into an ornate frame. Naturally, the stunt got mixed reactions on Twitter.
"Lol what a clownish act of self pat on the back and self promotion," one person tweeted.
"Love this!! Thank you!!" wrote another.prevnext
Barack Obama's Inauguration
Many people, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, pointed out that the Betsy Ross-style flag had hung in the background during President Barack Obama's inauguration. They wondered what had suddenly changed about the flag's symbolism to warrant new outrage.
As many users pointed out, there was a reasonable answer on hand. White supremacist groups have been using the flag a lot in recent years, though a research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center told Rolling Stone that the practice goes back much further than that.
“Under the guise of ‘heritage,’ symbols of early U.S. history have long been adopted by hate groups set on returning to a time when all non-white people were viewed as subhuman and un-American,” said Keegan Hankes. “Historically, these symbols have been used by white supremacists, both to hearken back to a time when black people were enslaved, while also painting themselves as the inheritors of the ‘true’ American tradition.”
Many also pointed out that Kaepernick advised Nike on the flag in private, and did not intend to make a public statement out of this latest controversy.prevnext
Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) this past week: “Nike has made its decision, and now we’re making ours. I’ve ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars...”
Also Doug Ducey: pic.twitter.com/SyH3mzNJxw— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) July 6, 2019
Meanwhile, Kaepernick's supporters gleefully counted up instances of his detractors breaking their boycott, often by mistake. Arizona Governor Dug Ducey promised to "withdraw all financial incentive dollars" from Nike, yet he was then photographed wearing sneakers with a large Nike logo across the side.
There were other instances of this as well, though the boycott was never well organized or centralized.prevnext
'More Nike for Me'
Shorter lines, and more Nike for me. pic.twitter.com/U8d54sPD1W— Literally Three Kobolds in a Trenchcoat (@ThreeKobolds) July 6, 2019
Believe it or not, there were many Americans simply shrugging at the controversy, feeling that their real allegiance belonged to Nike. They encouraged Kaepernick's opponents to boycott the company so that there would be more sneakers for them.prevnext
Two white men claiming the system is rigged for whites, as they rig the system to enrich themselves is funny.— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) July 5, 2019
Some questioned why Kaepernick's opinion should hold so much sway on this issue in the first place, noting that he is a millionaire and, in many ways, "privileged." Some, including political commentator Candace Owens, even went so far as to question the authenticity of Kaepernick's race, claiming that he is not qualified to comment on African-American issues because he is "half-white."prevnext
Finally, many people shared facts about Betsy Ross herself in arguments over the flag. They pointed out that Ross was a Quaker — a pacifistic religious group that was generally against slavery. To some, this proved that the flag itself could not be symbolic of racism.0comments
Of course, Kaepernick never leveled accusations against Ross herself, but her flag, which has outlived her by almost 200 years now. As the Center for Strategic International Studies found in the fall, right-wing extremism, including white supremacist extremism, has been measurably growing since 2016.
Kaepernick only pointed out — privately — that some of these groups use the Betsy Ross-style flag, and so Nike risked association with them by embroidering it on a shoe. Nevertheless, it looks like this batch of outrage will carry on for some time.prev