Home » PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » Nike Nixes ‘Betsy Ross Flag’ Sneaker

Nike Nixes ‘Betsy Ross Flag’ Sneaker

3 July 2019

Tomorrow, July 4, is a major American holiday, Independence Day.

The holiday commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776.

The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Britain and were now united, free, and independent states. The Congress had voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2, but it was not declared until July 4.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Nike Inc. is yanking a U.S.A.-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag after NFL star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive, according to people familiar with the matter.

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.

After shipping the shoes to retailers, Nike asked for them to be returned without explaining why, the people said. The shoes aren’t available on Nike’s own apps and websites.

“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured the old version of the American flag,” a Nike spokeswoman said.

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. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.

The design was created in the 1770s to represent the 13 original colonies, though there were many early versions of the America flag, according to the Smithsonian. In 1795, stars were added to reflect the addition of Vermont and Kentucky as states.

In 2016, the superintendent of a Michigan school district apologized after students waved the Betsy Ross flag at a high-school football game, saying that for some it is a symbol of white supremacy and nationalism, according to Mlive.com, a local news outlet. While the flag’s use isn’t widespread, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said at the time that it has been appropriated by some extremist groups opposed to America’s increasing diversity.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Here’s a replica of the offending flag:

Here’s the story behind this flag per The History Channel:

Perhaps the best-known figure from the American Revolutionary era who wasn’t a president, general or statesman, Betsy Ross (1752-1836) became a patriotic icon in the late 19th century when stories surfaced that she had sewn the first “stars and stripes” U.S. flag in 1776. Though that story is likely apocryphal, Ross is known to have sewn flags during the Revolutionary War.

. . . .

Elizabeth Griscom was born on January 1, 1752, in the bustling colonial city of Philadelphia. She was the eighth of 17 children. Her parents, Rebecca James Griscom and Samuel Griscom were both Quakers. The daughter of generations of craftsman (her father was a house carpenter), young Betsy attended a Quaker school and was then apprenticed to William Webster, an upholsterer. In Webster’s workshop she learned to sew mattresses, chair covers and window blinds.

. . . .

In 1773, at age 21, Betsy crossed the river to New Jersey to elope with John Ross, a fellow apprentice of Webster’s and the son of an Episcopal rector—a double act of defiance that got her expelled from the Quaker church. The Rosses started their own upholstery shop, and John joined the militia. He died after barely two years of marriage. Though family legend would attribute John’s death to a gunpowder explosion, illness is a more likely culprit.

. . . .

In the summer of 1776 (or possibly 1777) Betsy Ross, newly widowed, is said to have received a visit from General George Washington regarding a design for a flag for the new nation. Washington and the Continental Congress had come up with the basic layout, but, according to legend, Betsy allegedly finalized the design, arguing for stars with five points (Washington had suggested six) because the cloth could be folded and cut out with a single snip.

The tale of Washington’s visit to Ross was first made public in 1870, nearly a century later, by Betsy Ross’s grandson. However, the flag’s design was not fixed until later than 1776 or 1777. Charles Wilson Peale’s 1779 painting of George Washington following the 1777 Battle of Princeton features a flag with six-pointed stars.

Betsy Ross was making flags around that time—a receipt shows that the Pennsylvania State Navy Board paid her 15 pounds for sewing ship’s standards. But similar receipts exist for Philadelphia seamstresses Margaret Manning (from as early as 1775), Cornelia Bridges (1776) and Rebecca Young, whose daughter Mary Pickersgill would sew the mammoth flag that later inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

. . . .

In June 1777, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a sailor, with whom she had two daughters. In 1782 Ashburn was apprehended while working as a privateer in the West Indies and died in a British prison. A year later, Betsy married John Claypoole, a man who had grown up with her in Philadelphia’s Quaker community and had been imprisoned in England with Ashburn. A few months after their wedding, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. They went on to have five daughters.

Link to the rest at The History Channel

PG will note that Ms. Ross’ connection with the Quakers is particularly ironic. Per Wikipedia:

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) played a major role in the abolition movement against slavery in both the United Kingdom and in the United States of America. Quakers were among the first white people to denounce slavery in the American colonies and Europe, and the Society of Friends became the first organization to take a collective stand against both slavery and the slave trade, later spearheading the international and ecumenical campaigns against slavery.

. . . .

Quaker colonists began questioning slavery in Barbados in the 1670s, but first openly denounced it in 1688. In that year, four German settlers (the Lutheran Francis Daniel Pastorius and three Quakers) issued a protest from Germantown, close to Philadelphia in the newly founded American colony of Pennsylvania. This action, although seemingly overlooked at the time, ushered in almost a century of active debate among Pennsylvanian Quakers about the morality of slavery which saw energetic anti-slavery writing and direct action from several Quakers, including William Southeby, John Hepburn, Ralph Sandiford, and Benjamin Lay.

During the 1740s and 50s, anti-slavery sentiment took a firmer hold. A new generation of Quakers, including John Woolman, Anthony Benezet and David Cooper, protested against slavery, and demanded that Quaker society cut ties with the slave trade. They were able to carry popular Quaker sentiment with them and, beginning in the 1750s, Pennsylvanian Quakers tightened their rules, by 1758 making it effectively an act of misconduct to engage in slave trading. The London Yearly Meeting soon followed, issuing a ‘strong minute’ against slave trading in 1761. On paper at least, global politics would intervene. The American Revolution would divide Quakers across the Atlantic.

. . . .

In the United Kingdom, Quakers would be foremost in the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787 which, with some setbacks, would be responsible for forcing the end of the British slave trade in 1807 and the end of slavery throughout the British Empire by 1838.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

So Kaepernick and Nike managed a woke twofer, smearing one of the most famous women in the history of the early United States and a religious group (during an era when religious groups were quite influential in American public life) that was the single most prominent early religious force urging the abolition of slavery.

 

PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

38 Comments to “Nike Nixes ‘Betsy Ross Flag’ Sneaker”

  1. What’s not explained very well is that some white supremacy groups have co-opted the Betsy Ross flag as a symbol of their movement. Unfortunate, but there you have it.

    • Thanks for this info. I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about.

    • Once co-opted is not always co-opted.

      Perhaps a re-co-option campaign is in order.

    • Terrence OBrien

      Next, they’ll co-opt the peace symbol and the Nike Swoosh. Unfortunate.

    • I Never Talk Politics So Doing This Anon

      The only problem with this is that there has been little or no evidence that the Betsy Ross flag has ACTUALLY been co-opted by white supremacist groups. It was what Kaepernick claimed to get the shoes pulled, but despite several searches the most anyone has found has been some obscure usage by a few remote survivalist-style militias.

      • Militias love the old flags because they are anti-government, not for any other reason.

  2. I wonder what they’d say to the Gadsen Flag:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadsden_flag

    Even older, tied to the Marines, and most recently a favorite of militias.

    I expect sales of the Ross flag to boom.

  3. … a religious group … that was the single most prominent early religious force urging the abolition of slavery.

    I thought everyone knew this about the Quakers? No need to ask why the athlete didn’t know; true to stereotype he does not do the reading books thing. But Nike really doesn’t know better? Really?

    Michigan school district apologized after students waved the Betsy Ross flag at a high-school football game, saying that for some it is a symbol of white supremacy and nationalism, according to Mlive.com, a local news outlet.

    Huh. I wonder what was stopping that school from doing that thing that schools are supposed to do: educate students. Did the school officials not realize that this is their one job? Why not correct the students’ ignorance? And how did they decide that a small group of people should be given the power to decide what everyone else thinks? What an odd mentality for a school to foster. Parents, homeschool your kids if you have a choice.

    At any rate, Indians (and other Easterners) still use the swastika, so I see no reason why Betsy Ross’s flag can’t be retained for patriotric Americans, just because some evil people also like it.

    Oh, by the way, since “tainted by association” is a thing, why not change the name of the Nike company while they’re at it? Did Nike know that their namesake sided with a shapeshifting rapist — who even married his own sister — and encouraged him to wage war against his enemies? Shoe-Nike doesn’t want to encourage the sort of morality Ye Olde Greek gods were famous for, do they?

    • Good points, Jamie.

    • Whyever would you expect people in a corporation to be more knowledgeable about stuff outside their field than athletes are?

      • Because they were supposed to go to college to learn?

        It’s not as if Betsy Ross and the Revolutionary Flag are obscure, never discussed subjects. They’re messing with the oldest symbol (more or less) of national unity.

        Football players can be excused…

        https://www.foxbusiness.com/features/nike-betsy-ross-flag-sneaker-colin-kaepernick-dr-alveda-king

        …but execs are held to a minimum standard.

        • I would like to think that, but my interactions with businesspeople have not encouraged me to believe that the majority are any more intellectually curious than the average athlete.

      • I was thinking of their marketing research department, and their design department, for whom such knowledge is their field.

        Did you notice that Washington wanted a six-pointed star instead of a five-pointed star? What if I told you that assorted cultures use different “points” of a star to mean different things? Weird and esoteric knowledge? Yep, but symbolism is the kind of knowledge a good designer would possess.

        Hence my belief that it is reasonable to expect that a marketing and design team at a company named for a relatively obscure Greek goddess to know about a relatively famous American icon. If they didn’t know, they should be fired. And perhaps also the people who hired them.

        • Odds are they knew and believed it to be both harmless and appropriate to the holiday to highlight such a recognizable symbol of unity…
          …until the company’s “pet conscience” chipped in.

          Thousands of shoes made, shipped, and recalled. Plus sales lost for lack of product.
          Even with sweatshop labor it’s a lot of money lost so someone is going to have to answer for it.

    • Huh. I wonder what was stopping that school from doing that thing that schools are supposed to do: educate students. Did the school officials not realize that this is their one job? Why not correct the students’ ignorance?

      My, my, you humans are charming when you fall for the official story.

      Schools are not there to correct students’ ignorance. They are there to cultivate it and channel it in directions that will make them easy and profitable for their masters to control. Teach a child the truth and he may use it against you. Teach him a socially accepted lie and he can do nothing but fit in.

      (signed)
      H. Smiggy McStudge
      Acting Undersecretary for the Prevention of Culture

  4. One more instance of a small (presumably) group taking ownership of something quite innocuous, and putting it out of bounds for everyone else. On a small forum yesterday, a member declared that the forum had come to feel dangerous to them and they were thinking of leaving. The danger? The use of “female” rather than “woman.” Apparently, some idiots use female as an insult, so the word is now too tainted for respectable people to use. Just how far will this go — letting history and language be shaped by a tiny, malicious minority?

    • More like one small group is claiming another small group has made something once ‘good’ now ‘bad’ or ‘disrespectful’ in their eyes and it must therefore never be used again.

      Along the same level of silliness as that ‘cultural appropriation’ thingy.

  5. I grew up under communism-socialism. First thing those fanatics did was to destroy all the history of Romania in this case, and replace it with the new communist view. People who were the movers, shakers, and builders of the country were deemed evil because they were “rich” or expressed different ideas that were not in accordance with the international socialist ideals. Monarchy, which brought the country up in the modern times of the 19th and first half of 20th century was eradicated from the history books. Minor or insignificant players in the society, or even outright questionable characters became the new heroes.
    And so today in the US some elements of the society are trying and succeeding to rewrite the history of our country based on the new pollical correct point of view. Slavery was an atrocious economic and social system, and not many people owned slaves, but that was how society back then lived their lives. Very few knew any better. History is to teach us what not to do again if it was wrong. Instead, our modern political correctness is reinterpreting the history and destroying it at the same time, until our moral compass is altered for the ulterior political benefit of elements who are trying to destroy the best economic system ever accomplished and kill our personal freedom.

    • “And so today in the US some elements of the society are trying and succeeding to rewrite the history of our country based on the new pollical correct point of view.”

      That’s half the story.
      The other half of the story is the economy.
      Best case/worst case:

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XEhw66fV5qc

      More story fodder.

      Might be best to avoid the entire near-future setting.

      • Excellent video, Felix. The difference between capitalism and socialism is the the capitalist feeds the goose to lay more golden eggs, whereby socialism kills the goose to redistribute the golden eggs left inside the goose.
        In my book “Escape from Communism” I dedicated a chapter about what happens when one billionaire’s one billion dollars fortune, living in Manhattan, is nationalized along with all the other rich people in USA. The billion dollars vanishes overnight, not becasue the billionaire runs away with the money, which he cannot, but because a billion dollar valuation under capitalism is worth almost nothing under state ownership of the socialist economy.

      • I never realized that Argentina was once so wealthy. But that does explain books and movies from before the 50s, where you would sometimes see clocks on walls that were keeping time for different world cities. You’d have Paris, London, Buenos Aires and so on. And characters would jet set off to Argentina. What a difference between then and now.

  6. When Kaepernick and his defenders began their march with him kneeling for the flag at NFL games, they told us he was not disrespecting the flag, just policy brutality. That was a lie.

    This flag flew for Obama’s second inauguration and no one gave a fig. Lie #2.

    This excuse that a handful of white supremacists have adopted this flag therefore 359 million people can no longer see it is merely Lie #3 in a long, long list.

  7. I remember when putting the American flag on clothing was itself considered an offensive use of the flag. Especially below the waist on jeans and shoes.

    Late 60’s and the Vietnam War period.

  8. There have been 27 different national flags. Many have curious stories associated with them:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/here-are-the-27-different-us-flags-and-how-they-got-that-way/ss-AADzQQy

  9. The Anti defamation League speaks up:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/nikes-betsy-ross-controversy-highlights-new-dangers-lurking-in-old-american-icons/ar-AADL0tM

    The “Betsy Ross” flag is not part of a database maintained by the Anti-Defamation League of more than 150 so-called hate symbols, including the Confederate flag, a noose, Pepe the Frog and Sadistic Souls, said Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at ADL’s Center on Extremism.

    “The Betsy Ross flag is a common historical flag,” said Pitcavage. He noted that while the flag has been used used by white supremacists “from time to time” he has “never once thought about” adding the Betsy Ross flag to the list.

    Also at the link:

    “Since patriot groups, militias, etc, tend to be firmly linked to ‘100% (white) Americanism,’ the rumor has now taken root that the Ross flag constitutes another such symbol (like the Confederate flag),” said University of Memphis’s Professor Marler.

    “Well, if it wasn’t before, it sure will be now, and it’s a shame to concede it to them.”

    Once again: Actions breed reactions.
    The reactions are yet to come. I doubt they’ll be pretty.

  10. Another ploy by Nike to get free marketing and add to its bottom line. What horse pa-toot!

  11. Nike decided to hitch their company’s reputation to a man who has demonstrated that he will be trouble for anyone who associates with him.

    Kaepernick is a race hustler. It was only a matter of time before he blew something up for them. As Jonah Goldberg wrote, “Nike followed the advice of a man whose business model is to stir grievance and controversy for its own sake.” They should have had more sense.

    (Full disclosure: one of my sons worked retail for Nike for several years, part time in college, full time for a year or two after. He loves their products.)

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