Culture War

It’s Not About the Shoes

Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.
by Jim Swift
July 2, 2019
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I warned you this business would get out of control. Today’s performative wokeness exercise involves:

  • a pair of shoes made by Nike,
  • the Betsy Ross flag,
  • Colin Kaepernick, and
  • Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

Those are the players, and here’s what happened:

Nike announced a new Fourth of July themed pair of shoes with the Betsy Ross flag on the backstay. Colin Kaepernick, a team captain of their brand, complained because the Betsy Ross flag had a connection to an era of slavery. Nike said “OK, we can see how some could find this old flag offensive” and pulled the shoes from stores. In response, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced he was taking away state financial incentive money from Nike.

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. Nike was stupid to capitulate to Kaepernick, but the company has made him a brand ambassador, and those are the risks! Some very conservative folks have long been boycotting Nike over Kaepernick in the first place—they literally burned their shoes. But many of those same people were going to abandon that boycott just to buy these shoes and own Kaepernick, who when not playing football, lives rent free in their heads. And he currently doesn’t even play football.

As we’re so close to July 4, a friendly reminder that the shoes are a violation of the spirit of flag code. If you love America like I do, let the soldiers wear the flag.

But don’t get crazy, like Ducey. He has done a lot of great things as Arizona governor, especially licensing reform. Revoking financial incentives because of politics is not one of them.

For a very long time, conservatives rightly believed that government should not be picking winners and losers on tax policy. And, as Ducey notes, Arizona is doing well economically and Nike is a multi-billion dollar company. It doesn’t need Arizona’s money, and Arizona shouldn’t be giving it to them. Or anyone! Let the market decide, right?

And, if you haven’t had enough whiplash yet, remember that last month—literally last month!—Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law to protect protect Chick-fil-A from local governments who might not agree with its politics. Conservatives cheered.

Now, when a different conservative governor uses the power of government to punish a company for its politics, conservatives cheer.

When it comes to the flag, these colors don’t run, but for some, principles apparently do. In a way, Kaepernick was right about one thing: You should believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. 

Clarification: Since the Betsy Ross flag is no longer the official flag of the United States, using it in such a manner (on shoes) is probably not a violation of the flag code. However, The Bulwark agrees with the Boy Scout tenet of: “Historic U.S. flags are due the same honor and respect that are given today’s colors.” Though, the current flag should always take precedence.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.