THE LAST WORD: For me, Betsy Ross flag is no symbol of racism or oppression

Kerry Hubartt

What would Betsy Ross say?

Former NFL player Colin Kaepernick has complained about special Nike shoes that came out last week with a symbol of the first stars and stripes flag the Philadelphia upholsterer is believed to have sewed in 1776, during the American Revolution.

So the sportswear manufacturer dutifully stopped the release of the sneaker.

Kaepernick, of course, is the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who hasn’t played since 2016, when he began kneeling during the national anthem prior to games to protest racial inequality. Last year, Nike made Kaepernick the face of an advertising campaign while he was engaged in his dispute with the football league.

The sneaker in question was to go on the market in retail stores prior to July 4 in celebration of U.S. Independence Day with a flag symbol that featured 13 white stars in a circle on the heel. The special-edition Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July was pulled back in a surprise response by Nike.

The flag symbol, according to Kaepernick and other critics, is evocative of an era when slavery was still predominant in the U.S. The original American flag, they say, has been hijacked by racist groups who claim it represents their cause. But use of the 13-star flag in that way is reportedly scant.

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told The Associated Press his organization does not have the Betsy Ross flag in its database of hate symbols. He said extremist groups have occasionally used the flag, but it’s most commonly used by people for patriotic purposes.

Nike’s decision caused Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Darcy to pull back a grant that was to attract a $185 million Nike Air plant to the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear the day after the town’s city council approved the deal that would have created 500 new jobs.

“We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history,” he said in a series of tweets.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also went on Twitter to say it’s a good thing Nike “only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag.”

Nike says it “pulled the shoe based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.” The company denied in a statement that its action was “anti-American,” saying it is “proud of its American heritage and our continuing engagement supporting thousands of American athletes, including the U.S. Olympic team and U.S. Soccer teams.”

But many Americans are seeing the move in the same way they saw Kaepernick and other NFL players refusing to stand during the National Anthem — it’s one more slap in the face of American patriotism under the pretense that the anthem and the American flag represent oppression and racism.

“If we’re in a political environment where the American flag has become controversial to Americans, I think we’ve got a problem,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Tuesday, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I hope Nike either releases these shoes or some other shoe maker picks up the flag, puts it on a pair of shoes and starts selling it. I’ll make the first order.”

A Savannah, Ga.-based apparel company owned by a military veteran is jumping into the debate by releasing a T-shirt featuring the Betsy Ross flag.

Tyler Merritt, who founded Nine Line Apparel with his wife in 2012, is also “calling on Americans to boycott Nike and to display their patriotism with the hashtag #NoToNike.”

In a media release from the company, Meritt states, “Nike seeks profit through controversy, but with absolutely no regard for the consequences. In its corporatist wake, it leaves behind anti-American sentiment and division, harming our country. But since Nike has no interest in displaying the Betsy Ross flag, a classic symbol of freedom and unity, then we proudly will.”

Whether Betsy Ross actually created the original American flag or not, the issue is what it does stand for, not for what critics like Nike and Kaepernick think it stands for.

The Independence Hall Association is one group that believes Ross should get credit for the 13-star flag and says, “When we view the flag, we think of liberty, freedom, pride, and Betsy Ross. The American flag flies on the moon, sits atop Mount Everest, is hurtling out in space. The flag is how America signs her name.”

I, for one, am tired of those who want to desecrate the symbols of our history and freedom.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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