Betsy Ross shoe: Did Nike cave to PC culture?

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Speed read

What's happening: Nike pulled a shoe featuring a historical version of the American flag from stores after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick reportedly told the company it is an offensive symbol to some people. The 13-star "Betsy Ross" flag represents to many an era of slavery, Kaepernick, a Nike client, reportedly said. There are also reports the design has become a popular symbol used by white supremacist groups.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Nike's "shameful retreat" led him to eliminate financial incentives the state planned to give the company for a new manufacturing plant in Phoenix.

The Betsy Ross flag was created in the 1770s to represent America's original 13 colonies, but there's significant debate among historians over whether Ross played any part in its design.

Why there's debate: Nike's decision drew sharp criticism from prominent conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz and Fox News' Laura Ingraham. The most common criticism is that Nike is putting political correctness over patriotism in a way that denigrates American history.

Kaepernick has been a target of condemnation for years over kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against police violence when he played in the NFL. Others argue that pulling the shoes means ceding use of a time-honored American symbol to extremists.

Those defending Nike argue that it's fair for the company to pull a product that some of its customers find offensive, even if most Americans don't associate that version of the flag with slavery. Some are also writing off the controversy as largely being fueled by conservative media that have a business interest in treating Kaepernick as a villain.

Others have criticized Ducey for letting a political controversy affect his decision making on a multimillion-dollar business arrangement that could bring hundreds of jobs to his state.

What's next: At least a few pairs of the shoes apparently became available to the public. With the controversy suddenly making them a collector's item, one pair sold for as much as $2,500 at an online sneaker store.

Perspectives:

All symbols of America's past can't be considered offensive

"White nationalists also drape themselves in red, white and blue and call themselves patriots. Does that mean America's colors are now offensive? That patriotism is a dirty word? And if we are now banning all things from the 'era of slavery,' does that mean that George Washington should be given the old heave-ho? Should his name be stripped from our nation's Capital? From major streets in virtually every city in America?" — Laurie Roberts, Arizona Republic

The issue is ultimately a silly thing to fight about

"We’re compounding the stupidity here, people. The shoe was ugly, and I’m not sure which number is greater: the number of people who would have bought it or the number of people who would have been offended by it." — Jim Swift, Bulwark

Nike is overreacting and turning people away from progressive causes

"The Betsy Ross flag is now a symbol of White Nationalism and slavery? Not defiance against a distant monarchy? Really, Nike? PC madness is accelerating just in time for 2020. Trump feeds on your reflexive Wokeness." — Joe Scarborough, co-host MSNBC's Morning Joe

Conservatives are eager for any reason to criticize Kaepernick

"Colin Kaepernick is the alt-right’s drug of choice. They cannot get enough. In their constant search of someone to hate, he feeds their veins like no one else." — Dave Zirin, sports editor Nation

Arizona leadership is foolish for letting a political debate affect business decisions

"The state has actively mobilized against not just Kaepernick, but even mega corporations that accept input from him. Over a pair of sneakers." — Howard Bryant, ESPN writer

Allowing a few racists to take over a historic symbol means letting the racists win

"I don’t think it’s wise to cede national or civic symbols to racists because they want them to be able to publicly present their ideology as ‘patriotic,’ and what America should be, which is exactly what is being contested. Let them have the stars and bars." — Adam Serwer, Atlantic staff writer

Kaepernick is wrong about what the flag stands for

"It’s absurd to draw a connection between the Betsy Ross flag and slavery. The 13-star flag, created in the 18th century, represents the founding of the United States. It represents the bloodshed in the Revolutionary War which made this country possible, a country founded on the ideals of the Enlightenment — such as individual liberty, religious tolerance, and property rights, among others." — Tom Joyce, Washington Examiner

The controversy is largely a creation of right-wing media

"This Nike controversy is a great example of how the right wing infrastructure works. Unite over one controversy, make it us vs. them, create a shared talking point, have politicians parrot it, blast it across media platforms. Drown other controversies and make it ‘both sides.’" — Wajahat Ali, New York Times contributor

The flag can mean different things to different people

"Therein lies the crux of the debate over the use of the original American flag design, as well as any number of historical American symbols that have been used innocuously and also reappropriated for nefarious purposes: the meaning is entirely dependent on its context." — EJ Dickson, Rolling Stone

The shoe could have been a chance to reclaim the "Betsy Ross" flag from extremists

"If, as some claim, the Betsy Ross banner has been appropriated by white supremacists, the Nike shoe could have been a fine way to yank back its appropriation." — Editorial, New York Daily News

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