Nike hit by conservative backlash over ‘racist trainer’

Nike trainersImage copyright Nike

US political heavyweight Mitch McConnell has waded into the “racist trainer” row with a call for Nike to reverse a decision to halt sales.

“I’ll make the first order,” the Republican Senate majority leader promised if Nike changes its mind.

The special-edition Fourth-of July trainer features an old US flag that some people say has racist overtones.

Mr McConnell said “I think we’ve got a problem” if some “Americans find the American flag controversial”.

The sportswear giant withdrew the trainer, featuring the Revolutionary War-era Betsy Ross flag, following complaints that it represented an era of slavery.

Although the origins and meaning are disputed, the flag was adopted by the American Nazi Party and other extremist groups.

Sportsman, activist and Nike-sponsored Colin Kaepernick was widely reported as one of those who said it was inappropriate, although he has yet to comment publicly.

Nike’s decision sparked a huge backlash from conservative America and the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, ordered the cancellation a $1m grant to help the company build a factory in the state.

Speaking in Kentucky, Mr McConnell told reporters: “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.

“If we’re in a political environment where the American flag has become controversial to Americans, I think we’ve got a problem.”

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The trainers are selling for more than $2,000 on secondary websites

The heels of the trainers were decorated with the flag, known for its circular arrangement of 13 stars representing the 13 original colonies of the US.

The shoes, which had already been shipped to retailers, are selling on the StockX online marketplace for more than $2,000. Nike has asked retailers to return the stock.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz also dismissed Nike’s move as unpatriotic, writing in a series of tweets that the shoe giant “only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag”.

“Yep, I own lots of @Nike I’ve been a life-long customer, since I was kid. But they’ve now decided their shoes represent snide disdain for the American flag,” he said. “Since they don’t want my business anymore, I wont buy any more.”

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal said that “no flag of the United States is a symbol of oppression and racism” and that the row was “another sign of our current political insanity”.

But social media was equally full of comments backing Nike and criticising the firm for thinking the flag was appropriate.

Image copyright Getty Images

Last year Mr Kaepernick, a former NFL star, became the face of Nike’s advertisement marking the 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” slogan.

The former American football quarterback had previously sparked a furore by kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest against police violence against African-Americans.

US President Donald Trump said he had shown “disrespect” to the US flag. Many consumers said they would never buy Nike again after it adopted Mr Kaepernick, and social media featured pictures of people burning their trainers.

But in the following three months, Nike reported a rise in sales.

Matt Powell, senior industry adviser at the research and consultancy group NPD, said Nike would probably also find support among its core consumers this time.

“I think it’s important to understand who Nike’s core demographic is here. They’re really focused on teens and looking at the commentary on Twitter and so forth, I don’t see a lot of teens coming out with a negative attitude here,” he said.

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