Sneaker maker pulls Independence Day-themed shoe after NFL star raised concerns about symbolism
By guest authors Khadeeja Safdar and Andrew Beaton from Wall Street Journal
Nike Inc. is yanking a U.S.A.-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag after NFL star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive, according to people familiar with the matter.
The sneaker giant created the Air Max 1 USA in celebration of the July Fourth holiday, and it was slated to go on sale this week. The heel of the shoe featured a U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle, a design created during the American Revolution and commonly referred to as the Betsy Ross flag.
After shipping the shoes to retailers, Nike asked for them to be returned without explaining why, the people said. The shoes aren’t available on Nike’s own apps and websites.
“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 said.
After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.
The design was created in the 1770s to represent the 13 original colonies, though there were many early versions of the America flag, according to the Smithsonian. In the 1790s, stars and bars were added to reflect the addition of Vermont and Kentucky as states. U.S. flag designs continued to change as states were admitted to the union until the 50th star, for Hawaii, was added in 1960.
In 2016, the superintendent of a Michigan school district apologized after students waved the Betsy Ross flag at a high-school football game, saying that for some it is a symbol of white supremacy and nationalism, according to Mlive.com, a local news outlet. While the flag’s use isn’t widespread, the local chapter of the NAACP said at the time that it has been appropriated by some extremist groups opposed to America’s increasing diversity.
Mr. Kaepernick, 31 years old, last played in the National Football League in 2016, the season he began kneeling on the field during the national anthem to call attention to social injustices and racial inequality. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has gone unsigned since and, along with former teammate Eric Reid, in February settled collusion grievances that alleged the league and its teams conspired to keep them unsigned because of their outspoken political views. The settlement was for less than $10 million, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.
Last year, Nike made Mr. Kaepernick the face of an advertising campaign while he was still engaged in that dispute with the league—a risky move given Nike’s role as one of the NFL’s biggest partners. The campaign generated a backlash among some consumers, who began torching Nike shoes and cutting its swoosh logo out of gear. The protests were countered by expressions of support for Nike.
Since the ad was released, Nike has posted higher sales, boosted by strong demand in both the U.S. and China. In the fourth quarter, sales rose 4 % to USD 10.18 billion. Its share price has climbed more than 15 % so far this year.
At least some of the USA-themed shoes have already made their way to sneaker enthusiasts. Versions of the Air Max 1 USA were changing hands on sneaker-reselling site StockX for as much as USD 500 on Monday, July 1, 2019, according to the site. After this Journal article was published, the price fluctuated, with one pair fetching as much USD 2000 and another as little as USD 140.
Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, people familiar with the matter said