Sorry Nike and Colin, I’m Not with You on This One

I’ve generally been a fan of the public stances that Nike has taken on various issues, and I was a fan of Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem at football games. I like when celebrities or athletes use the platform they have available to them to address social issues.

However, I don’t agree with the decision made by Nike this week to drop production of a sneaker that featured the Betsy Ross version of the U.S. flag. It seems as if one of the reasons for such a decision was because Kaepernick objected to the design’s associations with an era of slavery and its alleged adoption by some extremist groups.

However, while some extremist groups have tried to appropriate the Betsy Ross flag, it isn’t widely used by white nationalists or far-right groups as a rallying symbol, according to people who research American flags and those who track extremism.

But even if such radical groups were trying to claim the iconic 13-star flag as their own, to me that should provide even more reason for Nike to want to use it on a sneaker. Doing so would send a signal that the symbol isn’t owned by anyone, but it is a key part of our American heritage. By backing away, it seems as if Nike is simply allowing these radical groups to claim the flag as their own.

What if Nike wanted to put the Statue of Liberty on the back of one of its shoes, and some radical group decided to try and use Lady Liberty as its symbol? Should Nike just drop such an idea, or go ahead with production and use it as a way of saying that Lady Liberty belongs to the U.S., and not some radical fringe group?

Maybe I’m a little biased since the Betsy Ross flag is such a big part of the history of Philadelphia, and I’ve visited the Betsy Ross House a couple of times. It doesn’t seem you can get much more American than our first flag.

My fear is that if they weren’t using it before this controversy, radical groups may now feel emboldened to use the Betsy Ross flag as their own symbol.

And that seems to be the exact opposite of what Nike, and I’m sure Kaepernick, would want to happen.

P.S. For a great discussion of this issue from a marketing perspective, be sure to check the article at Forbes written by my Villanova colleague, Ray Taylor.

6 thoughts on “Sorry Nike and Colin, I’m Not with You on This One

  1. I’m completely with you, Jim. As a society, I think we also need to think clearly about what is offensive to us. This one seems like a stretch. I also agree that by backing away from using this flag we cede it to the clowns on the fringe. Well written, thanks.

    1. The WSJ made the same argument in an editorial today about how this move by Nike could help Trump’s re-election campaign. There seems to be little support for Nike’s move, but I doubt if they will reverse their decision.

  2. Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more, in every phrase you wrote here. My politics are, admittedly, left of center, and I also supported Kaepernick’s protest against injustice. But now his input seems arbitrary. When did he become THE expert on what is and isn’t racist? This is Nike caving in to one spokesperson… why?
    Consumers should be ignoring Nike anyhow for their sweatshop practices. THAT is more unAmerican than this kerfuffle about an early version of our flag.

    1. Pat, thanks for your comments. I don’t understand why Nike made such a decision; from what I’ve been reading there does not seem to be much support for it. And while Nike seems to have improved its labor practices, there’s still more it could be doing.

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