The Coalition of African-American Pastors last week sent an open letter to Nike demanding that it cut ties with Colin Kaepernick over his reported role in nixing a Fourth of July sneaker he found racist.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the former NFL quarterback earlier this month complained to the sports giant, for which he is an endorser, that the shoes were offensive because they feature a Revolutionary era flag, which he said evoked the legacy of slavery.
In the July 11 letter, the socially conservative civil rights nonprofit addressed Nike President and CEO Mark Parker, and called on sports-gear giant to “stand up for America.”
“Many of us marched in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and have an established record of civic activism,” the letter said. “We represent a variety of races, ethnicities, and creeds. And we agree that Mr. Kaepernick’s views on America and the flag are fringe opinions, not shared by any of us especially the African Americans who marched against segregation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, we find Mr. Kaepernick’s views to be ill-informed and offensive, especially to veterans and others who have served this country.”
The missive, signed by the group’s president, Reverend Bill Owens, went on to say that Nike must end its endorsement deal with Kaepernick to demonstrate that it does not share his “negative view of America, its founders, and the woman who designed the first flag,” a reference to Betsy Ross.
The letter further advised that Kaepernick “has become synonymous with radical anti-American sentiment.”
To make amends, the Coalition of African-American Pastors suggested that Nike release the “Besty Ross flag” shoes and donate the proceeds to military veterans and their families.
Why black pastors are fed up with Kaepernick
If the 13-starred Betsy Ross flag is controversial, it seems to be a recent development. As political commentator Dave Rubin noted in a tweet earlier this month, the flag was on display during both of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations.
Someone needs to tell Barack. pic.twitter.com/1q9L6DGtc0
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) July 3, 2019
However, in 2016, a group of Michigan students sparked controversy by waving a Betsy Ross flag along with a President Donald Trump flag at a local high school football game.
Critics have argued that the flag’s colonial origins make it problematic because slavery was still practiced at the time. Others have cited the recent use of the flag by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan as proof that it’s a symbol of hate.
At least one expert on the subject disagreed, though. Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, responded to the latest Kaepernick controversy in a fiery tweet.
“The ‘Betsy Ross flag’ is not a white supremacist symbol or a hate symbol,” he said. “Isolated examples of usage do not make it a ‘thing.’ It’s a longstanding historical and patriotic flag overwhelmingly used by ordinary Americans.”
“Don’t Tread on Me”
The Betsy Ross flag is not the only flag from America’s founding era to be deemed racist as of late.
On Monday, actor Chris Pratt was accused by some of racism after being spotted wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a coiled snake over an American flag. Beneath the symbol appeared the slogan: “Don’t Tread on Me.”
The “Don’t Tread on Me”-snake combo can be traced back to the “Gadsden flag,” which was created by American colonists to rally opposition to British rule ahead of the Revolutionary War. These days, it appears on the U.S. naval jack and seven state license plates and has been picked up by libertarian groups, U.S. Men’s Soccer and Metallica.
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