The Tennessee Smokies, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, deleted and apologized for a tweet Wednesday in which they showed off a “Betsy Ross flag” design on their infield dirt and called out Colin Kaepernick.
The Class AA Smokies shared photos of the flag, with its familiar arrangement of 13 stars in a circle, they had drawn on their infield dirt around second base. Tagging Kaepernick in the tweet and adding “America” in a hashtag, the Smokies said that “after a lot of thought, we have decided it’s best to just do it.”
The “just do it” line was a reference to a well-known Nike slogan, the 30th anniversary of which was celebrated last year by the sports-apparel company in an ad campaign that featured Kaepernick. The former 49ers quarterback, who was the first to protest racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem, reportedly objected to a shoe Nike was set to release for the week of July 4 that had the flag embedded in its design.
Nike pulled the shoe, setting off a political firestorm, as well as a discussion about the potentially offensive nature of the Betsy Ross flag. Kaepernick has been variously reported as associating that version of the flag of the United States with a period of widespread slavery, and as being concerned that the flag has been co-opted by white nationalist groups.
“Nike made the decision to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday,” the company said in a recent statement, adding that it was “proud of its American heritage and our continuing engagement supporting thousands of American athletes.”
The Cubs did not immediately respond to a request from The Post for comment on the Smokies’ tweet.
The flag dates to the late 1700s and, according to legend, was originally designed by Ross, a Philadelphia-based upholsterer, at the urging of George Washington. The 13 stars represent the 13 original colonies that banded together to fight the British in the Revolutionary War and establish independence.
The Smokies, based approximately 20 miles east of Knoxville in Kodak, Tenn., were holding a Celebrate Independence Day promotion on Wednesday. In addition to the flag drawn around second base, there was a fireworks display and players wore “Stars and Stripes”-themed uniforms that were set to be auctioned off for charity.
Just over two hours after the Smokies posted the tweet tagging Kaepernick, they deleted it and posted one that said it “was meant to be a light-hearted take on a current situation.”
“We did not mean to offend anyone by it," the team said. "If it did, we certainly apologize.”
Later in the evening, the team’s owner, Randy Boyd, tweeted that he was “just catching up” with the matter.
“I was not at the ballpark tonight and was not aware of any of tonight’s actions or tweets,” Boyd wrote. “But I hope we’ll skip all the politics so everyone can get back to celebrating the Fourth with their families and friends.”
A Knoxville-based businessman, Boyd and his wife Jenny own several minor league teams in Tennessee. He is also the interim president of the University of Tennessee and a former chair of the state’s Higher Education Commission, and he unsuccessfully ran last year for governor, losing to Bill Lee in the Tennessee Republican primary.
In response to the Smokies’ original tweet, some Twitter users pointed out that the placement of the flag design made it inevitable that it would get marred by fielders and baserunners. The incorporation of the modern American flag into the team’s uniforms Wednesday appeared to violate federal code, which states, “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”