Fred LaSor: Betsy Ross’ flag will not wave on Nike shoes

One of Nevada’s own made news this past week when Colin Kaepernick declared the early American flag designed and sewn by Betsy Ross should not appear on Nike’s latest sports shoe. The UNR football star complained that the “Betsy Ross Flag Air Max 1 USA sneaker” was offensive because the 13-star flag design had been used by white nationalist groups.

Don’t ask me how he knew white nationalist web sites use the Betsy Ross flag: I admit I did not. But in the interest of full disclosure I must also say I do not visit those web sites, so I don’t know what they use in their propaganda. Kaepernick did not say if he had seen the Betsy Ross flag on those web sites, but that seems unlikely. More likely is the possibility that someone in his circle was tipped off by a member of some special interest group that looks for opportunities to push an agenda with a liberal bent, and he jumped at the chance.

Kaepernick had his way: Nike pulled the Betsy Ross sneaker off the shelves within days. And Nike’s share price immediately responded by taking a positive jump. Stock holders, and the market in general, were spooked by Kaepernick’s threat and happy that the shoe company backed off immediately and cancelled the planned July 4 release of the new shoes.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Robert O’Rourke and Julian Castro both supported Nike’s cancellation of the new sportswear design, agreeing that white nationalists had appropriated the design. O’Rourke and Castro are struggling to gain enough support for their candidacy to participate in the next presidential debate and any opportunity to get in the news must be seized. Such is the power of our failed quarterback.

For her part, Betsy Ross appears to have been a hard-working seamstress and upholsterer who lost two successive husbands in the Revolutionary War. She also knew George Washington personally, and it is entirely believable that he asked her to sew a flag for the new Republic, as conventional wisdom has it.

Given her Quaker upbringing and her humble state in life, it is unlikely Ross was a slave owner. Nor is Kaepernick’s charge related to criticism of the Founding Fathers – particularly Jefferson – for writing eloquently about men being created equal but owning slaves. Kaepernick’s complaint, rather, is that some white nationalist group uses the Ross design. Again, that is a charge that is unprovable one way or another, as far as I am concerned. And internet search engines are no help on that score.

The more important issue is that Kaepernick is employed by Nike to stand up for what he believes in even though his belief cost him financially. While it is true he was not signed to a lucrative football contract, and that was a financial loss, fans who watched him playing for the San Francisco 49ers were not surprised that was his last season of professional ball – it had nothing to do with his politics: he just was not an asset to the team.

I find it surprising Nike would align itself with a political story that is at best specious and at worst dishonest. Perhaps their business calculus is that sports fans who believe Kaepernick will buy shoes he endorses while people who don’t believe him are not going to buy sports shoes anyway. Something Nike might consider, though, is that a has-been sports hero who comes across as anti-American has a limited shelf life. American sports enthusiasts have not responded positively to boycotts of the national anthem, and Kaepernick’s ability to sell shoes will eventually be no better than his ability to make game-winning plays.


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