The leader of a group of African-American pastors is calling on Nike to cut ties with Colin Kaepernick after the controversial former NFL quarterback reportedly influenced the company to pull a sneaker adorned with the Betsy Ross flag from shelves.
First, a bit of background.
Sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal last month that the Air Max 1 USA — which had the original version of the flag with 13 stars on the heel — was recalled by the company from retailers without an explanation.
“After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Nike also made a statement on the controversy to The Western Journal.
“We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services. 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.
“Nike is a company proud of its American heritage and our continuing engagement supporting thousands of American athletes including the US Olympic team and US Soccer teams. We already employ 35,000 people in the U.S. and remain committed to creating jobs in the U.S., including a significant investment in an additional manufacturing center which will create 500 new jobs.”
With this in mind, the Rev. Bill Owens, president of the Coalition of African-American pastors, which is based on Nevada, has written an open letter to Nike president and CEO Mark Parker asking him to reconsider.
“We, the undersigned, are people of faith and principle, united in our love for America and what it stands for. Many of us marched in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and have an established record of civic activism,” the petition begins.
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“With that background, I hope you will understand how dismayed we were to learn that your company decided to “pull” a specially-designed shoe that celebrated America’s independence and the Betsy Ross flag,” it adds.
Owens goes on to slam Kaepernick’s “fringe opinions” as “ill-informed and offensive.”
“We represent a variety of races, ethnicities, and creeds,” his letter reads. “And we agree that Mr. Kaepernick’s views on America and the flag are fringe opinions, not shared by any of us … especially the African Americans who marched against segregation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, we find Mr. Kaepernick’s views to be ill-informed and offensive, especially to veterans and others who have served this country.”
“Mr. Kaepernick does not represent us,” the letter says. “Moreover, he has tainted our view of your brand. Removing the Betsy Ross flag shoes at his behest implies that your company shares his negative view of America, its founders, and the woman who designed the first flag.”
“How can we purchase merchandise for ourselves or our families from a company that holds those views of our country?”
Owens says Nike should “make it clear that you respect the American flag, its people, and its Founders.”
And he wasn’t done.
“We ask that you sever your relationship with Mr. Kaepernick, who has become synonymous with radical anti-American sentiment. And we ask that you make amends to veterans by producing a select run of the Besty Ross shoes for the benefit of veterans groups and organizations that help military families,” the petition says.
“For a long time, sport has been something that brings Americans together. Nike has been one of the companies we associate with ‘Team USA,’” it concludes. “Please don’t tarnish that legacy by continuing to cater to anti-American politics.”
In an interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Owens, who used to be based in the area, further explained his reasoning.
““We just don’t feel that it was fair that they would pull this flag because [Kaepernick] opposed it — because he opposes a lot of things,” Owens said. “We love this country, we love the flag and we love most things about this country, whereas there are some people who just find something to complain about anything.”
The CAAP’s website notes it is “a national black-led organization dedicated to the propagation of Biblical values.”
“As part of that mission, CAAP takes policy positions that support our core principles, especially regarding defense of religious freedom, marriage, the family, and other issues that are critical to our community.”
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