Nike Pulls Shoes Featuring Betsy Ross Flag Over Concerns About Racist Symbolism

Nike ordered a recall of its new July Fourth-themed Air Max 1 sneakers over concerns about its Betsy Ross flag logo. Prices for the shoes rocketed on the website StockX, as seen on a computer screen Tuesday.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Updated at 4:36 p.m. ET

Nike has recalled a shoe featuring the Betsy Ross flag over concerns that the design glorifies slavery and racism. The red, white and blue sneaker had been set to hit the U.S. market to commemorate the July Fourth holiday.

“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,” the company told NPR on Tuesday. Nike did not immediately respond to questions about the thinking behind the original design.

It released a statement saying, “We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services. NIKE made the decision to halt distribution [of the shoe] based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”

The special Air Max 1 design — which includes an embroidery of the famous flag featuring 13 stars for the original 13 colonies — drew complaints that it celebrates an era in U.S. history when slavery was legal and commonplace. While the flag’s defenders say it has a place in history, critics say it has become a symbol of extreme views.

Those critical of the Nike shoe include activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, according to The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper says Kaepernick asked Nike to reconsider the design out of concern that it would send the wrong message about race in the modern United States.

Kaepernick has not commented publicly about the controversy; however, the Know Your Rights campaign, founded by Kaepernick, retweeted several messages about Nike’s decision, including one that used the Twitter hashtag #ImWithKap — echoing the protests that made Kaepernick famous.

Nike’s prerelease images of the shoe sparked commentary and debate last week. “I wasn’t free yet,” read one comment on Sneaker News’ Instagram post about the shoe. Other responses called them “Air Slavery.” Some commenters said they view the symbol as evoking the American Revolution, nothing more.

Nike’s sudden decision to withdraw the shoes drew an even bigger response.

“It’s a good thing Nike only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote in response to the Journal article on Kaepernick’s role in the decision.

By the time Nike decided to pull the shoes, the company had already shipped the sneakers to retailers to meet a July 1 release date. The controversy instantly sent the shoe into collectible territory. While the original suggested retail price was $140, the sneaker at one point was selling for around $2,500 on the clothing site StockX on Tuesday morning.

As the sneaker magazine Sole Collector notes, the shoes had been pulled from Nike’s new launch site as of June 26, shortly after the first images were released. But at the time, a company representative suggested they would still be available at shoe stores.

Nike’s about-face drew a sharp rebuke from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who announced that his state will no longer offer tax incentives to Nike to try to lure the company to invest in an operation in Goodyear, Ariz.

“We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history,” the Republican governor said in a series of tweets.