Nike has pulled from circulation an American flag-themed shoe after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed concern to the company about the shoes’ “Betsy Ross flag” motif that he says is a slave-era symbol that also has been adopted by some white nationalist groups, according to multiple reports.
“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,” company spokesman Mark Rhodes said in a statement released Monday (via Yahoo Sports).
The Wall Street Journal reported that Kaepernick’s feedback led Nike to recall the shoes that were slated to go on sale this week.
The decision, per Yahoo Sports, “will thrust Nike into the spotlight of corporations walking a tightrope between product and historic symbolism” on the eve of the Fourth of July.
The initial blowback to the sports apparel giant’s decision came Tuesday, the day after the story broke: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that he was ordering the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw incentives for Nike to build a manufacturing plant in the state because of its recall of the Betsy Ross flag shoes.
“Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision. I am embarrassed for Nike,” Ducey, a Republican, tweeted, in part. “Nike is an iconic American brand and American company. This country, our system of government and free enterprise have allowed them to prosper and flourish.”
Unidentified sources told Yahoo Sports and The Wall Street Journal that a significant factor in the shoes’ removal from stores was concerns from Kaepernick and others about the symbolism of the Ross flag, which features 13 stars in a circle representing the United States’ original 13 colonies.
Backlash built last week on social media as Nike quietly began recalling the shoes from circulation as debates over the sensitivity of the product bubbled up on sneaker-centric accounts.
As concern over white nationalism has become a spotlight issue in recent years, the Ross flag has for some risen as a symbol of controversy as it reportedly has been adopted by some white nationalist groups such as the Patriot Movement and Identity Evropa (pronounced “Europa”).
When he shared his concerns with Nike, Kaepernick passed along his feelings that the flag that rose to prominence in the 1790s symbolizes to some exclusion and hate as well as being a symbol of the country’s slave era, a source told Yahoo Sports.
Not long after Kaepernick’s contact, the company began moving to recall the shoes, which already had been shipped to stores throughout the country.
It’s unclear how many of pairs of the shoes (if any) made it into public hands, nor is it clear what Nike will do with the shoes now that it has been recalled.