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After Colin Kaepernick complaint, Nike reportedly pulls shoe with ‘Betsy Ross flag’ design

The 13-star flag is one of a number of symbols co-opted by some hate groups. The Post talked to flag expert Jeffrey Kohn to understand its controversial roots. (Video: The Washington Post)

Nike decided to shelve plans for a shoe featuring the 13-star American flag associated with Betsy Ross after a complaint by Colin Kaepernick, according to a report Monday. The shoe was set to go on sale this week in connection with Independence Day celebrations.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported that Kaepernick contacted Nike officials and told them that he and others are offended by the flag because it dates to the late 18th century, a period of widespread slavery in the United States.

Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who made national headlines for being the first to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice, is a Nike endorser. He was the centerpiece of a major ad campaign by the company last fall pegged to the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” slogan.

In a statement, Nike said that it “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 spokesman for the company did not immediately reply to a request for comment regarding Kaepernick’s reported intervention.

The shoes featured a red-white-and-blue colorway with Nike’s swoosh logo on the sides. The heels of the shoes were decorated with the flag, known for its circular arrangement of 13 stars, representing the 13 original colonies of the United States.

That version of the flag has reportedly been adopted by some white nationalists and other groups that object to America’s growing racial diversity.

In response to a 2016 incident in which students at a predominantly white Michigan high school waved the 13-star flag during a football game against an opponent that featured several African American players, the head of the NAACP’s chapter in Grand Rapids, Mich., said that the flag had been “co-opted by exclusionary movements,” including “the so-called ‘Patriot Movement’ and other militia groups who are responding to America’s increasing diversity with opposition and racial supremacy.”

While discussing “how entrenched racism is” in the United States, filmmaker Spike Lee told Politico earlier this year, “It’s embroidered, it’s sewn into the flag by Betsy Ross. It’s part of the DNA of this country.”

Whether Ross actually designed the flag is a matter of dispute. There is little evidence to back up assertions by her descendants that turned the Philadelphia-based upholsterer into a national heroine in the 1870s.

Nike’s decision was condemned by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in a series of tweets early Tuesday morning. Saying the company “has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism” and that he was “embarrassed for Nike,” Ducey announced that he would be ordering the state’s Commerce Authority to withhold financial incentives it planned to give Nike for opening a manufacturing plant west of Phoenix.

“Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike,” Ducey wrote. “We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history.”

The Nike shoe, which also featured the circular arrangement of stars on its tongue, was reportedly set to hit the market on Monday, retailing for $140. According to the Wall Street Journal, Nike asked that stores return their shipments of the sneakers without offering an explanation.

A limited number of the sneakers appear to have made it onto the secondary market, however, and they apparently have become a collector’s item. StockX, a sneaker resale website, had sold a number of pairs of the sneaker as of Tuesday morning, with one pair reaching $2,501.

Kaepernick, 31, has been out of the NFL since March 2017, when he parted ways with the 49ers and became a free agent. A grievance he subsequently filed against the league, accusing team owners of colluding to punish him for his activism, was settled in February, reportedly for a sum of under $10 million.

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