Why Nike’s Betsy Ross Sneaker Fumble Is A Cautionary Tale

Nike forgot that the Betsy Ross themed sneakers are a painful reminder of slavery to some.

Every time we make some progress in this country, something comes up that both incites a division across racial lines and exemplifies the lack of sympathy and understanding that American corporate giants sometimes demonstrate towards people of color. 

Today we learned that Nike has decided not to put out its Fourth of July flag-themed shoes after speaking with Colin Kaepernick, who sees the 13-star flag as an “offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery.

Of course, those people who have never had to endure any form of racial bigotry or systematic oppression are flaming hot at Nike for even being sensitive to Kaepernick’s concerns, yet they selfishly and racistly ignore the symbol’s connection to white nationalists and white supremacists

When Kaepernick took a knee against oppression and police brutality, many totally missed the boat and turned his silent protest into a shot against patriotism, the military and the flag. 

Today these fools are misrepresenting Nike’s racial sensitivity as a blow against patriotism and a racial Twitter war has ensued, with many refusing to acknowledge history and others making it about what it isn’t

 

Diversity In Sports Apparel?

This latest Nike situation is another example of why major companies need people of color in decision-making positions. With people who understand history, perception and perspective in place, these types of incidents could be nipped in the bud. 

Sportswear giant Adidas has already come under fire after a New York Times article in June revealed the concerns of 20-plus minority employees of the company who described alleged instances of inequitable and discriminatory treatment that they said run counter to the brand’s pro-diversity marketing. 

Similarly, last year, multiple sources identifying as racial and ethnic minorities said that white leaders at the German athletic brand’s Portland headquarters failed to promote and treat people of color fairly. It’s not surprising when you understand that the proportion of white employees to black employees with decision-making powers is severely lopsided. 

When people of color are absent from the boardroom, huge cultural gaffes like these can occur. 

This wasn’t Adidas’ first fumble either.

A few years ago they created a promotion for their “Uncaged” campaign where James Harden would break out of a prison cell. In their “All Rise” campaign, Damian Lillard was scheduled to be placed in a courtroom as a defendant. Then, back in February, Adidas had to withdraw its all-white Ultra Boost sneakers from a collection designed to honor Black History Month, after facing a backlash from some social media users.

The all-white running shoes made of cotton were part of a specially-designed edition created by the Harlem Renaissance to commemorate Black History Month, an annual observance which recognizes African Americans’ contribution to the US down the years.

While the majority of the brand’s Ultra Boost line sneakers were black with orange and purple elements, the all-white shoes stood out, which some social media users took issue with amid the Black History Month celebrations.

 

It’s time to continue to hold these million dollar apparel companies accountable when they blatantly demonstrate a fundamental lack of knowledge about the consumers who have contributed to their billion-dollar profits.

Beyonce used her power to walk away from a deal with Reebok because the company didn’t make diversity a priority. Ironically, she signed a deal with Adidas, mostly because of their commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

The need for influential voices of color to step up is obvious. Without them, nothing will ever change.

I can understand why some white Americans get frustrated when something that they see as “patriotic” is torn down and revealed to be racist and offensive to people of color.  Most of these people have never had to deal with the reality of subliminal, blatant, institutional, systematic or any other kind of racism. 

That’s why diversity is so important to acknowledge and include across every aspect of life.

And thanks for people such as Colin Kaepernick, who have the bravery, influence and track record for a company like Nike to heed his concerns and do the right thing.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.