Manufacturing Controversy


Nike’s ‘Betsy Ross’ Flap An Ironic Twist On ‘Sewing’ Discord, Lies

It was the shot heard ‘round the world — according to certain Republicans.

Nike’s decision to pull its Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July trainers, which featured a Betsy Ross flag on the back of the shoe, angered Arizona governor Doug Ducey to the point where he sought to pull financial incentives for Nike across the state.

The fact that the decision came at the behest of Colin Kaepernick, former NFL quarterback-turned-GOP Public Enemy No. 1, only riled critics even further.

The whole episode was on-brand with Nike’s willingness to engage controversy. Are we really to think that Nike, with its b/rand awareness and attention to detail, didn’t know how folks would respond to a Betsy Ross flag on the back of its sneakers?

This was a masterful troll job only days before the Fourth of July, and the controversial kicks have already seen a dramatic markup on resale sites.

And yet, the irony of the backlash behind Nike’s decision to pull a shoe with the “Betsy Ross Flag” cannot be overlooked.

Faux patriots are angry about a flag likely based on a lie.

Elizabeth Griscom Ross was born a New Year’s baby in 1752. She’s credited with the design of the flag — even though there’s no recorded or archived evidence to uphold that claim.

In 1870, Ross’ grandson, William Canby, delivered a paper before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania entitled “The History of the Flag of the United States.” In that paper, he shared what Ross told him before she died. He was six at the time of her death.

Nearly a century prior, in 1776, Ross said she was visited and commissioned by a group, to include former president George Washington. The paper and story claimed that Washington showed a rough design for a national flag, and Ross not only suggested changes, but later presented them with said design.

Except for the fact that Ross made flags for the Pennsylvania Navy during the American Revolution, there’s no proof that she made the first American flag. Yet her story resonates with people who fancy themselves patriots or nationalists — in the traditional sense.

There is a more wicked idea of nationalism — white nationalism — that the Betsy Ross flag debate is currently centered around. And the ugly truth of it all is this — both the “Betsy Ross Flag” and the idea of white nationalism are both powered by ahistorical and willfully ignorant narratives.

It’s the idea of “white nationalism” that believes the extent of American history is about flags and Confederate statues. The very idea of the Confederacy is anti-Union — anti-American — in nature. That didn’t stop monuments from being erected many years after the Confederacy lost the war. Even today, there are inexplicable debates about the relevance and reasoning for keeping monuments to slavery and oppression in public view.

Ross’ lie — or, at best, lack of historical basis — is dangerous and provides a cautionary tale on the importance of accurately depicting history.

Nike had every right to pull the shoe because of what the Betsy Ross Flag represents to certain people. And yet, Nike has crafted controversy into a money-making machine. Nike stock jumped after they ran Kaepernick in its line of “Just Do It” ads last year. The controversial Air Max shoes in question are up to more than $2,000 a pair on resale sites.

Controversy sells — but at what cost? Why intentionally weave discord onto and into a controversial shoe? Nike pitches itself on not only style, but substance. And if the brand wants to be truly authentic by integrating social awareness into its business model, then it has a cultural responsibility to engage controversial items with the intent of productive dialogue, not profits.

The last thing Nike wants to become is like the folks who peddle Betsy Ross flags and such — the same folks won’t let a few historical inaccuracies get in the way of a dollar.

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