Pair of feet with Nike shoes on them.

Is Arkansas Law Enforcement Photographing Inmates in ‘Nike’ Gear?

The Union County, Arkansas sheriff’s department has responded to widespread outrage in October 2018 about its policy of photographing inmates in shirts bearing the Nike slogan:

The Sheriff in Union County, Arkansas is putting Nike t-shirts on people they arrest and making them wear them during mugshots.

Source says it is to mock Nike and Colin Kaepernick. Disgusting.

— Shaun King (@shaunking) October 11, 2018

The sheriff’s department says, despite claims from high-profile activists to the contrary, that it was not intended as a protest or a slam against either the brand or its face, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was catapulted from a sports name to a household name in 2016 when he began kneeling during the national anthem before football games in order to protest police brutality and extrajudicial killings. Kaepernick was subsequently hired by Nike in September 2018 to be the face of its brand:

Sheriff Ricky Roberts says the shirts were given to people who came into their jail without “proper attire during the booking process.”  Roberts says the shirts weren’t purchased by his department — but rather, already on-hand.

“We are not, and will not, be influenced by current political and social debates in the media,” Roberts said in a statement.  “This shirt is not only in use now, but has also been for several months prior.  We have taken steps to rectify this issue and insure that this will never happen again.”


Subsequent reports show boxes of used clothing in the department:

The sheriff tells me that when taking mugshots, if an inmate is not fully clothed they allow them to pick their own shirts out of a box to have something to wear. These are clothes that others have left behind.#ARNews

— Cherith Cobbs (@KTVE10Cherith) October 11, 2018

Not long after images from the Union County Sheriff’s Department began getting shared on social media, the office removed all mugshots from its site:

In Wednesday social media posts, activist Shaun King accused the sheriff’s office of using shirts to mock Nike and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

About 9 p.m. Wednesday, less than an hour after King posted the allegation, the sheriff’s office removed all photos of inmates from the jail’s online roster.

Though King’s post features two Nike shirts — a large, black T-shirt with NIKE ATHLETICS in boldface font above Nike’s signature check mark and a black polo shirt with a small white Nike swoosh in the upper right-hand corner — the second shirt could be seen in mug shots as far back as July, before the Sept. 3 announcement of the Nike-Kaepernick deal.

The NIKE ATHLETICS shirt began to show up in mug shots around Sept. 15, according to the jail’s roster.

Roberts said the sheriff’s office did not buy the shirts but they were “on hand and available.”

“We are not, and will, not be influenced by current political and social debates in the media,” the sheriff wrote.

Roberts noted that one of the shirts has been used “for several months.”

It was not immediately clear how long the Nike shirts have been used to (in the sheriff’s words) cover improper attire, how many shirts are available overall, or what other brand names are offered as choices.