Nike pulls 'Betsy Ross Flag' sneaker after criticism of slavery-era imagery

VIDEO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Nike has cancelled the release of an America-themed sneaker after criticism of the 13-star "Betsy Ross flag" it featured, starting the latest flare-up in the nation's culture wars.

The decision was reportedly prompted by Colin Kaepernick, the former National Football League quarterback and social-justice activist, who had privately criticised the design to Nike, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The athletic-wear company did not say why it had pulled the sneaker.

"Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured an old version of the American flag," Sandra Carreon-John, a spokeswoman for Nike, said in a statement on Tuesday (July 2).

The heels of the shoe feature the flag, in which white stars are arranged in a circle over the traditional field of blue.

Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, is widely credited with creating the flag, though most scholars dispute that story as legend.

To many, the flag is merely a relic of America's past. But it has, at least in recent years, cropped up in association with racist ideologies as a symbol of the slavery era.

 
 
 

According to a 2013 investigation by The Albany Herald in Georgia, at least some local Ku Klux Klan units were required to use either that flag or the Confederate flag at ritualistic meetings.

News of Nike's decision ignited outrage, led by prominent conservatives who argued that the decision was unpatriotic.

"It's a good thing Nike only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag," Republican Senator Ted Cruz wrote on Twitter.

The move also had the potential to affect Nike's business plans.

The company had announced on Monday that it intended to open a multimillion-dollar facility in Goodyear, Arizona. But after the recall of the sneaker, Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, said he would oppose the company's plans.

"I am embarrassed for Nike," Ducey tweeted. "I've ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here."

He added: "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."

Kaepernick became a face of the social-justice movement in 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and killings by police.

Last year, Nike made Kaepernick the face of its "Just Do It" campaign celebrating the company's 30th anniversary.