OP-ED: The most 2019 Fourth celebration possible: A fight over Betsy Ross shoes
If you’re looking for heroes in the battle over the flag-emblazoned shoes Nike made and then recalled, you’re out of luck.
The shoe giant made the first mistake when it tried to monetize American patriotism by introducing a new rendition of a 32-year-old shoe, the Nike Air Max 1, just in time for the Fourth of July with an early version of the American flag emblazoned on its heel. It’s hardly the first apparel company to try to profit off of flag worship, but still — commercializing the flag is tacky.
In this case, the flag was the 13-star, 13-stripe version commonly known as the Betsy Ross flag because the design has been attributed to America’s favorite 18th century upholsterer. Makes sense, right? Nothing says Fourth of July quite like the flag most associated with the Revolutionary War.
But that was the second mistake, at least in the minds of the woke brigade. That’s because this version of the flag is not only a symbol of a time when the fledgling United States was A-OK with slavery but also an emblem embraced by some right-wing extremists and, well, supporters of President Donald Trump.
Things only got worse for Nike after it tried to quietly reverse field. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the sneaker company made the move after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick — of national-anthem protest fame — urged it not to sell the shoe. It wasn’t just any outraged liberal calling the company to account, it was the guy Republicans consider Flag Disrespecter No. 1.
Nike’s decision to shelve the shoe probably would have gone without controversy had the company been turned around by one of its own millennial employees or an activist less triggering to the outrage machine on the right, such as Shannon Watts. But no.
Anyway, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey put a cherry on top of the controversy early Tuesday morning. In a string of tweets, Ducey announced that he was unilaterally canceling the financial incentives the state had extended to Nike to persuade it to build a $184 million manufacturing plant in Goodyear, Ariz., that was to be announced later in the day.
Ducey concluded, “Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike. We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history.”
I’m waiting to hear back from Nike about whether it will proceed with the plant, which was expected to create more than 500 full-time jobs when it opened next year. According to the Arizona Republic, the city of Goodyear (near Phoenix) had agreed to provide $2 million in financial incentives, and the state was providing up to $1 million more.
The near-ubiquitous practice of bribing companies to set up shop (or stay) in town is deplorable, and we would all be better off if states and local governments stopped doing it. But Ducey got to the right place through the wrong vehicle: a fit of pique about Nike’s decision not to market a shoe exploiting the American flag for commercial purposes. And depending on Nike’s response, it’s a decision that could have real consequences for Arizona workers.
As the unfortunately named Twitter user Concrete Milkshakes put it, “Eliminating jobs to pwn (sic) the libs. Great stuff, keep it up.”