Nike has decided to pull its U.S.–themed sneaker that had been slated for release this week in conjunction with the Fourth of July holiday, featuring the early American flag created during the American Revolution, often known as the Betsy Ross flag.
The announcement came after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick told Nike that the flag is connected to a time when there was slavery in America and is therefore an offensive symbol that made him and other activists uncomfortable. “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 spokeswoman for the company said of the decision.
Kaepernick is a partner of Nike’s and faced criticism last fall after the company featured him in an ad with the caption, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It was meant to reference Kaepernick’s highly publicized and controversial choice to kneel during the National Anthem when it was played at the start of NFL games, which he called an act of resistance against “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Nike’s decision to pull the Betsy Ross sneaker wasn’t even the first time this week that the company buckled under backlash from people it evidently wishes to keep happy. Over the weekend, the athletic giant pulled a sneaker collaboration with Undercover after the brand’s designer, Jun Takahashi, wrote on Twitter: “No extradition. Go Hong Kong!” Takahashi’s comment expressed support for liberal democrats in Hong Kong in the face of the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party — and Nike decided it would rather be on the safe side, in this case, the side of Chinese nationalism.
So the Chinese government and Colin Kaepernick, then, are either implicitly or explicitly calling the shots at Nike, pressuring the company into making business decisions to cater either to this mob or that. And those decisions aren’t passing without comment.
Arizona governor Doug Ducey, a Republican who generally avoids culture-war commentary, announced this morning that he has instructed the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw financial incentives that the state had been providing to Nike to be located in Arizona. “Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike. We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history,” Ducey wrote on Twitter.
Missouri senator Josh Hawley was similarly critical of Nike’s decision, noting the company’s willingness to conform to Chinese demands. “They take advantage of our laws but send jobs overseas for sweatshop wages,” the Republican tweeted, “partner w repressive regimes, aggressively avoid paying any US taxes, and then tell Americans to shut up and buy their stuff.” Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas), meanwhile, said he plans to stop buying Nike products until the company “ends its contempt” for American values.