Did Colin Kaepernick Force Nike to Cancel ‘Offensive’ Betsy Ross American Flag Sneakers?

On July 1 2019, the Wall Street Journal published an article reporting that Nike had canceled shipment of a planned Betsy Ross flag-themed sneaker, adding that former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick had forced the athletic wear company to do so as he found the design offensive.

The New York Times followed up on the story, rehashing the claims the next day:

Nike has canceled the release of an America-themed sneaker after criticism of the 13-star “Betsy Ross flag” it featured, starting the latest flare-up in the nation’s culture wars.

The decision was reportedly prompted by Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback and social justice activist, who had privately criticized the design to Nike, according to The Wall Street Journal. The athletic-wear company did not say why it had pulled the sneaker.

“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured an old version of the American flag,” Sandra Carreon-John, a spokeswoman for Nike, said in a statement on Tuesday.

CNBC also carried the claim:

Nike pulled the sneakers featuring an early American flag on the heel after former National Football League player Colin Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe that he and others consider offensive, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday evening, citing people familiar with the matter.

As CNBC noted, the Wall Street Journal article originally reported:

Nike Inc. is yanking a U.S.A.-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag after NFL star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive, according to people familiar with the matter.


After shipping the shoes to retailers, Nike asked for them to be returned without explaining why, the people said. The shoes aren’t available on Nike’s own apps and websites.

“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured the old version of the American flag,” a Nike spokeswoman said.

After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.

Early on the morning of July 2 2019, Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey responded to the rumors:

Ducey tweeted that he was ordering state entities to cancel a business agreement with Nike based on the report:

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. 5/

It is a shameful retreat for the company. American businesses should be proud of our country’s history, not abandoning it. 6/

Nike has made its decision, and now we’re making ours. I’ve ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here. 7/

The story about Colin Kaepernick’s purported insistence that Nike withdraw a Betsy Ross flag sneaker was based on a Wall Street Journal article, which itself relied on unspecified unidentified sources — “people familiar with the matter.” The newspaper did not say whether the people were party to the decision itself, if they were affiliated with Nike, or whether they were simply individuals who heard and repeated a rumor. Kaepernick did not comment on claims about Nike’s Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July. Nike responded to questions about the claims, stating that the Betsy Ross sneaker “featured the old version of the American flag,” but did not elaborate.

We have contacted Nike for comment and will update when we receive a response.