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Why Nike’s Capitulation To Kaepernick Matters


Colin Kaepernick has made a fantastic living out of protesting the America flag. That’s fine. No political speech should be inhibited, not even pseudo-intellectual historical revisionism. But let’s stop pretending that kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events is really about “respecting the flag” or criminal justice reform or any fixable policy problem.

Whatever the underlying causes for Kaepernick’s popularity—some of them certainly legitimate—these protests are acts of contempt toward an irredeemable nation created in sin. This view of our founding is an increasingly popular position on the left. And if it ever takes hold in mainstream American life, we’re in real trouble.

After pictures of Nike’s Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July edition were released online, Kaepernick, who “sacrificed everything” by making tens of millions of dollars as a corporate-sponsored activist, reportedly complained to company officials that the Betsy Ross flag on the back of a proposed sneaker was an offensive symbol because of its “connection to an era of slavery.”

It seems unlikely that being triggered by an 18th century Quaker seamstress is going to help reduce police brutality. But the sneakers themselves aren’t really the point. (I’m skeptical that the entire episode wasn’t just cooked up to bring attention to the company.) As an old-timey flag-waver, though, I am curious which other American icons and beliefs will be deemed offensive as we head towards full wokeness.

After all, everything about the founding is—tenuously or otherwise—connected to an “era of slavery.” This pretty much means not only every patriotic symbol of the era, but all the principles that gird the small-l, freedom-guaranteeing liberalism that was codified by the founders—many of whom, it should be stressed, were far more enlightened than their contemporary critics, certainly the Fidel Castro-praising Kaepernick.

Without this tangible set of enduring ideals, we have nothing as a national entity but a batch of constantly evolving progressive grievances.

Now, if you’re genuinely upset by the legendary embroidery of Betsy Ross—and it seems unlikely that many Americans are—you’re probably not equipped to engage in serious political discourse, anyway. I can assure you Kaepernick will be the victor in any debate over slavery, since there will be no one taking the other side. That discussion ended after a bloody war a long time ago.

Still, the usual suspects rushed to defend Kaepernick, claiming that “some” white nationalists had adopted the original flag, making it offensive. BuzzFeed was only able to dig up two instances to bolster this risible theory. In one, a member “of white nationalist group Identity Evropa” reportedly displayed the flag and, in another, a bunch of high school students in Grand Rapids, Michigan, “displayed the Betsy Ross flag along with a Trump campaign flag” because, I guess, we’re just going to keep conflating Trump supporters with Klansmen.

Even if this theory were correct, and even if Kaepernick’s problem with the sneakers involved the flag’s appropriation by racists and not a connection to an “era of slavery,” white nationalists have no claim to an iconic image. Mass consumption of sneakers with a Betsy Ross flag image would be a great way to take it back, in fact.

As far as I can tell, Kaepernick has never claimed to protest the American flag because we, as a nation, have failed to live up to the inherent values it represents. He protests it because he thinks the image epitomizes oppression.

“Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said, after announcing he was ordering the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw incentives for Nike building a manufacturing plant in the state.

I don’t typically care for this sort of political showboating, but corporations shouldn’t be getting any crony carve-outs from state governments, anyway. And rent-seeking mega-corporations that are offended by iconic images of the nation’s founding certainly don’t deserve them. Yet, we also don’t need the state monitoring anyone’s speech.

Then again, progressives who try to use the state to destroy chicken-sandwich chains and cake shops that fail to pledge allegiance to their doctrines, can’t act surprised when Americans start being offended that a giant sportswear company has adopted regressive hard-left positions.

Nike can do what it likes, of course. For example, just this week, the company submitted to the authoritarian Chinese government and stopped selling certain products after one of its fashion designers went on Instagram to support protests in Hong Kong. If an iconic American company like Nike, built in a free enterprise system, is helping to normalize both the brittle sensitivities of social justice warriors and Chinese communists, I suppose people might start getting offended themselves.

Many of the same people who treat flag-waving Americans as jingoistic rubes claim that Kaepernick’s protests were meaningful and important. Either the flag matters or it doesn’t. If those who see the flag as a representation of the worst aspects of American life believe it’s worth protesting, then surely those who see it as a symbol of our best characteristics should find it worth defending, as well.