This post has been updated with the latest news.
On one hand, the situation happening with Nike is an easy target for conservatives looking to score points with their base: The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the company nixed an 1700s-era American flag on a Fourth of July shoe after Colin Kaepernick, a Nike-sponsored activist and former National Football League player who was the face of the league’s national anthem protests, told the company the “Betsy Ross flag” was an offensive symbol that harked back to slavery.
But Republicans also badly want to be seen as job creators. And any governor of any party wants to bring jobs to their state. That’s what makes Ducey’s decision Tuesday perplexing.
Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision. I am embarrassed for Nike. 3/— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) July 2, 2019
It’s possible Ducey can have his cake and eat it, too, by making a political point without actually losing Nike. Despite the tweets, it’s not immediately clear whether his political decision will affect the plant, which is expected to create 500 jobs. The mayor of the town where the plant is supposed to go, Goodyear, told The Washington Post she would honor the agreement they made with Nike. The The Wall Street Journal tried to pin Ducey down on how much money he won’t give Nike but got no response Tuesday from his office. Nike hasn’t said what it will do.
Nike interjected itself into this maelstrom when it featured Kaepernick in an advertisement last year. It was a call to action for the right. Opponents of Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem began boycotting Nike products and burning their shoes in protest. Many of them, it’s safe to say, were also supporters of President Trump.
Wit that context, what Republican in the era of Trump wouldn’t join in on hating on Nike? Especially when to go against the grain on something Trump has purported to be of importance to him could risk your entire career. Ducey easily won reelection in 2018 and is term-limited from running again, but he may harbor more political ambitions beyond running Arizona.
“It’s a page out of the president’s political book, in terms of culture wars,” said University of Arizona political science professor Thomas Volgy, who noted Ducey is a Trump ally who is always game to ratchet up culture wars like this. It also takes away attention from the ongoing drama at the border with Mexico, in a state that could be critical to which party controls the Senate and the White House.
Another facet of Trumpism is that it’s apparently okay to call out private companies for doing something perceived as political. Trump smashes through a code of conduct followed by past American presidents when he calls out U.S. companies for not doing something he agrees with. Media companies (including The Washington Post), Amazon (whose owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Post), Boeing, Delta, Comcast, Facebook, General Motors, ESPN — the list of companies Trump has attacked goes on.
Trump’s attacks give license to other politicians to do the same. “I’ll make the first order,” said none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), urging Nike to reinstate the Betsy Ross flag shoe.
The intersection of politics and sports is a place Trump specializes in for drawing controversy. He’s got a feud going with U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who has said she’s “not going to the f---ing White House.” (“Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” Trump tweeted.) He’s taken offense to National Basketball Association champions who skip a visit to the White House. (No NBA championship team has visited the White House since Trump has been president, reports The Post’s Cindy Boren.)
These athletes, you’ll notice, are all minorities. Kaepernick is black. Rapinoe is an openly gay woman. The winning NBA teams are made up of majority black players.
It means that the Nike-American flag shoe debacle is a perfect storm of Trump controversies: race, patriotism, loyalty (or lack thereof) to Trump. And Ducey thought it was worth taking a stand for.