Nike was right to pull the Betsy Ross American flag shoe, but not for the reason they said, or you think…
Americans have been struggling for some time with political partisanship seeping into almost every aspect of daily life. So it comes as no surprise, that we recently found ourselves pushed apart again by a decision Nike made regarding a sneaker designed with the Betsy Ross American flag on the heel.
It was the right decision, and everyone should be happy with the conclusion, but you would not know it from the ensuing controversy.
Nike made mistakes in handling this decision, which played into the hands of divisive culture warrior media and politicians. But the decision to pull the Betsy Ross American flag shoe was not one of those mistakes.
Keep an open mind. Let me explain.
How The Nike Flag Shoe Controversy Started
As reported in the media, Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL star and Nike endorser, objected to the design. He explained to Nike that the Revolutionary-era U.S. flag with 13 white stars and a circle represented a time when slavery existed. Kaepernick also pointed out that white nationalist groups had appropriated the Betsy Ross American flag.
The Flawed Reason Nike Gave for Pulling The Betsy Ross American Flag Shoe
Planning to release the flag sneaker to capitalize on July 4th sales, Nike said in a statement “it pulled the shoe based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
Sounds reasonable enough on the first review, but the reasoning falls apart with more in-depth exploration.
Conservatives will point out that the Betsy Ross flag adorned the inauguration of former President Barack Obama. They will also point out that the appropriation argument has very little meat to bite on.
Lisa Moulder, director of the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, said she has never heard of the 13-star flag being used as a hate symbol. “Personally, I’ve always seen it as a representation of early America. The young nation was not perfect, and it is still not perfect,” she said.
Let’s face it, if Nike were worried about concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotism, it would not have made a major advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.
The Real Reason Nike Decided to Pull The Shoe
Once Colin Kaepernick pointed out the potential for controversy, Nike had a critical decision to make. If it pulled the shoe off the shelves, it would alienate conservatives who would see the decision as a slight. On the other hand, if Nike released the shoes, there was a chance that Kaepernick’s negative view of the Betsy Ross American flag would be shared widely by liberals.
Nike did not have a choice that would not “unintentionally offend and detract.” Either way, it was doomed to alienate some segment of its market.
To conservatives, Kaepernick had previously shown a disdain for the American flag, by kneeling during the anthems. And Nike, by already featuring Kaepernick in its “Just Do It” advertising campaign, had shown a preference for the liberal/progressive viewpoint. The action to remove the shoes shows Nike consistency with that viewpoint.
In the earlier public relations controversy, Nike bet that by siding with Kaepernick, the damage from loss of sales to the conservative segment would be smaller than gains from taking a stance popular with its liberal segment.
That bet proved to be generally correct. There was outrage among some conservatives. There were even public burnings of Nike shoes and vows of a boycott. But, Nike stock reached an all-time high just weeks later, adding nearly $6 billion to the company’s market value. And Nike’s annual sales have jumped 7% to more than $39 billion, according to its last quarterly report.
So, once again faced with a bet between alienating the liberal segment or the conservative segment, some of whom would probably forget the slight once the next popular shoe was released, Nike made the same calculated economic choice.
The Flag Code And Respect For The Flag
Beginning in the late 19th century, the use of the flag on beer bottles and other products led to a movement to protect the flag from commercial use.
On June 22, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Federal Flag Code, which led to Congressional enactment on December 22, 1942.
Section 8 of the Flag Code deals with “Respect for flag,” and subsection 8d reads, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery…”
Subsection 8i reads, “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.”
The Only Reason Nike Needed To Cancel The Flag Shoe
The Betsy Ross American Flag is a national flag and covered by the flag code. Nike should never have designed a shoe with an American flag on the heel. It would violate the flag code subsection 8d and 8i as Nike shoes are designed for temporary use and discard.
At the end of the day, everyone should be happy there are no Nike shoes out there with the Betsy Ross Flag. You see, once the flag is affixed to any object (even in violation of the code), that object is considered a flag. That means any scuff marks, stains, mud on the heel, etc. resulting in the flag symbol becoming compromised would require fitting destruction.
Subsection 8k of the flag code reads, “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
Can you imagine the controversy then?
Would buyers really destroy (burn) their shoe when the flag on the heel was muddied or damaged?
Have you seen the reactions to flag burning recently?
The Flag Code has no provision for enforcement on individuals or companies. No fines, and no penalties are prescribed. That would explain why one would see many violations fo the flag code – flag adorned t-shirts, dresses, and so on. The reality is that there is nothing law enforcement can do when the Flag Code is broken. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that politically motivated violations of the Flag Code are protected by the First Amendment.
I am glad that the Betsy Ross American flag shoe was never released, even though Nike got there for the wrong stated reasons. And everyone should be happy with the conclusion!
U.S. Code § 8 – Respect for flag | U.S. Code | US Law ….
Photo of President Obama Inauguration By: Lance Cpl. Daniel Benedict