Sometimes being woke just doesn’t work out.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Nike was forced to pull an American flag-themed shoe called the “Betsy Ross” from production after NFL quarterback-turned-political activist Colin Kaepernick, who inked a multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with Nike last year, complained.
Kaepernick reportedly told the company that he found the very idea of the shoe “offensive.”
“The sneaker giant created the Air Max 1 USA in celebration of the July Fourth holiday, and it was slated to go on sale this week. The heel of the shoe featured a U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle, a design created during the American Revolution and commonly referred to as the Betsy Ross flag,” WSJ reports.
The shoe shipped out to retailers this week, but Nike quickly recalled the shoe and demanded retailers return their stock, leaving customers confused. The shoe isn’t available for sale on the brand’s website and a statement from Nike said only that the company decided against releasing the sneaker because it featured an “old version of the American flag.”
But, it turns out, Nike was responding to a request from Kaepernick himself, who saw the shoe online and complained directly to Nike’s top brass.
“After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said,” per the WSJ. “Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.”
Kaepernick has been out of the National Football League for several years now, but is best known for protesting racism by kneeling during the national anthem, played during the pre-game ceremonies for most NFL games. A number of players across the league followed suit after President Donald Trump complained about the demonstrations and called out Kaepernick by name.
After turning down a one-year contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers, hoping he’d get picked up by a more prominent team, Kaepernick was left jobless. He eventually sued the NFL and team owners claiming they “colluded” to lock him out of the league, possibly in concert with President Trump himself. That lawsuit settled in March for less than $10 million, according to Fox Business, far less than Kaepernick and his fellow plaintiffs anticipated.
In the meantime, Kaepernick has become a Nike spokesperson, and the deal has worked well for both parties. Kaepernick has remained employed in some capacity, and Nike’s sales rose 4% in 2018 to more than $10 billion, even though Nike triggered a boycott after announcing its partnership with the controversial former second-string QB.
But there are clearly some kinks to the relationship.
The “Betsy Ross” sneaker was supposed to feature a red, white, and blue color scheme with an image of the “Betsy Ross” flag — an American flag with just 13 stars in a circle to represent the 13 original colonies — embroidered on the back. After seeing a publicity still of the shoe, though, Kaepernick and others claimed that the “Betsy Ross” flag, which flew at the nation’s founding, could be construed as a symbol of approval for slavery, white nationalism, and white supremacy.
Nike had, it seems, already completed production on the shoe when Kaepernick complained, and was forced to recall the sneakers from stores at what is likely an incredible cost.
Not all of them made it back to the manufacturer, though. The Wall Street Journal reports that sneaker collecters are snapping up pairs of the “Betsy Ross” Air Max 1 USA on secondary sale sites for as much as $800.