Nike listens to Colin Kaepernick on flag sneaker controversy - Activate World

Nike listens to Colin Kaepernick on flag sneaker controversy

Nike defended its decision to pull its Betsy Ross flag sneakers from distribution after NFL-star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick objected to the design. The 13-star Betsy Ross flag is associated with the Revolutionary War and a painful history of oppression and racism.

Lunchtime Conversations:

  • Why is Nike’s decision so politically charged? After all, isn’t this just a business decision?
  • Why didn’t Nike catch this earlier in the design process? How can companies conduct better due diligence on ideas and campaigns to ensure better empathy?
  • Two-thirds of consumers worldwide recently identified themselves as “belief-driven buyers.” Is this further proof that Nike knows its core customer base of younger consumers who expect the brand to live its mission and take action?


  • A spokeswoman said that Nike had made the decision to “halt distribution” of the sneaker “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
  • Arizona Governor Ducey said in a series of tweets, “Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision,” and added that Nike “has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism.” New Mexico Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office contacted Nike shortly after Ducey’s comments.
  • Nine Line Apparel, a Georgia-based company founded by retired Army Capt. Tyler Merritt, is releasing “Betsy Ross” flag t-shirts after Nike decided to recall shoes featuring the same design.


Mr. Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. Last year, he signed a lucrative deal to serve as a Nike brand ambassador, and now expressed concern to the company that the Betsy Ross flag had been co-opted by groups espousing racist ideologies. 

People across the political spectrum debated the issue on social media. Governor Doug Ducey, Republican of Arizona, announced on Twitter that he would pull back state support for a Nike facility that would have employed more than 500 people. Nike had proposed to open the $184 million plant in Goodyear, Arizona.  

The governor, who had previously called the factory “an exciting project,” also said: “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.”

Betsy Ross is widely credited with creating the first American flag at George Washington’s behest, though most scholars dispute that story as legend, according to the Library of Congress. 

In recent years the flag has been associated with racist ideologies. In 2018, for example, Klu Klux Klan recruitment materials in upstate New York featured a Klansman flanked by the Confederate flag and the Betsy Ross flag. 

In 2016, a school superintendent in Michigan apologized after students waved the 13-star flag alongside a Trump political banner at a football game. The superintendent wrote in a letter to parents that for some it is a symbol of white supremacy and nationalism.

The Albany Herald reported after a 2013 investigation in Georgia that at least some local Klan units were required to use either that flag or the Confederate flag at ritualistic meetings.

Sources: CBS News, CNN, ESPN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash