Nike Pulls ‘Betsy Ross Flag’ Sneaker After Backlash

Nike chose to put an image of America’s first flag, which white supremacist groups have co-opted over the past several years, on the design of a new limited edition sneaker. But after backlash for harkening to a time when Black people were enslaved and there was no federal government, the company changed its mind.

Nike, whose executive leadership team, led by Chairman, President, and CEO Mark Parker, is predominantly white and male, decided the red, white and blue Air Max 1 sneaker with the “Betsy Ross flag” would hit the U.S. market to commemorate the July Fourth holiday.

The 13-star flag is said to have been designed by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross. It was approved by the Continental Congress in 1777.

More than 200 years later, in September 2016, students at a predominantly white school in Michigan waved the flag during a football game — many Black students were on the opposing team. The students, in support of President Donald Trump, also had “Make America Great Again” flags.

At the time, the president of the NAACP Greater Grand Rapids, Mich., branch said the Betsy Ross flag has been appropriated by “the so-called ‘Patriot Movement’ and other militia groups who are responding to America’s increasing diversity with opposition and racial supremacy.”

The flag is commonly flown by the militia movement, “Three Percenters.” The group is named for the three percent of colonists that took up arms against the British in the American Revolution.

Some say it also stands for the three percent of gun owners who will not disarm. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Oath Keepers, who have ties to the Three Percenters, are “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today.”

A Nike spokeswoman said the company decided not to release the shoe because it featured “the old version of the American flag.” The company asked retailers to send back the sneakers with the flag on them but still offers the Air Max 1 in red, white and blue.

Mark Parker, Nike’s CEO, apparently has not made diversity a priority when it comes to leadership roles. But the company pursues athletes of color when it comes to promoting their products or taking the fall for them.

The narrative has become that Nike pulled the sneakers because former NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick complained that the shoe offended him and others. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that it was Kaepernick that made Nike just to do it.

Kaepernick, who hasn’t yet commented publicly on the report, became known worldwide for taking a knee during the national anthem at NFL football games to protest police brutality and racial injustice. He has drawn the ire of Trump and his party members.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted in response to the Nike report:

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