Nike pulls sneaker after Kaepernick objection, prompting Republican fury

Nike has withdrawn a pair of shoes featuring an early version of the American flag that has been embraced by white nationalists, after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick reportedly pointed out that the symbol was offensive.

Conservatives in the US immediately criticized the move. One Republican senator called the decision to pull the shoes “anti-American”.

The “Betsy Ross flag” features 13 white stars in a circle, representing the 13 original colonies, and is one of many early versions of the American flag. It is named after the Philadelphia seamstress who is credited with creating the first American flag featuring stars and stripes in the late 18th century – though most scholars dismiss that story as myth.

The flag has since been embraced by white nationalists and the American Nazi party.

The shoes had been destined for stores to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday. But Kaepernick – the NFL star turned activist who took the knee during the national anthem in protest against racism and police brutality – said Nike should not sell the shoes with a symbol many consider offensive for its connection to an era of slavery, according the Wall Street Journal.

“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,” a Nike spokeswoman told the WSJ.

In response to the report, Doug Ducey, Arizona’s Republican governor, called Ross a “founding mother” of the US, and tweeted: “Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision. I am embarrassed for Nike.”

Ducey said he had asked the state’s commerce authority to withdraw financial incentives for Nike to open a manufacturing plant in Arizona.

He tweeted: “Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism.”

Ted Cruz, the Republican senator, said Nike “only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag”.

Josh Hawley, a fellow Republican senator from Missouri, called Nike “anti-American, pure and simple”.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who has been accused of racism in the past and recently interviewed Donald Trump on his trip to France for the D-Day commemorations, tweeted: “No more Nike sneakers for our family.”

The Journal reported that the shoes had shipped to retailers, but Nike asked them to be returned, without giving further details. Some pairs of the shoes have been appearing on the re-sale website StockX for more than $2,000.

The Betsy Ross flag has caused controversy in the past. In 2016, the superintendent of a Michigan school district apologized after students waved the flag during a football game.

Colin Kaepernick becomes the face of Nike’s Just Do It campaign

At the time, Cle Jackson, the president of the local Greater Grand Rapids chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said the flag had been embraced by “[t]he so-called ‘Patriot movement’ and other militia groups who are responding to America’s increasing diversity with opposition and racial supremacy”.

Kaepernick, now 31, has not played in the NFL since 2016, when he began kneeling during the US national anthem to call attention to social injustice and racial inequality. The former 49ers quarterback settled a grievance case earlier this year, which alleged the league had blackballed him and a fellow player for their political views.

Nike unveiled an advertising campaign last year that put Kaepernick’s activism front and center, and featured the slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

Despite a backlash from some conservatives, Nike said it saw sales increase by 31% following the campaign’s launch. Its share price has risen more than 15% so far this year.

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