One on One: The American flag and Nike’s shoe

Published 7:08 am Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Colin Kaepernick and Nike are right about one thing.

The original American flag, the one we think Betsy Ross fashioned for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, does not belong on the backside of a Nike shoe.

But they are right for the wrong reasons.

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Just in case you missed recent news reports, Nike’s plan to put a small copy of the first American flag on a new model of its sports shoes was disrupted when Kaepernick objected. Kaepernick, you remember, is the former San Francisco football quarterback who took a knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem to protest our country’s continuing discrimination of African Americans.

There were loud protests from many football fans who thought his actions were unnecessarily disrespectful and disloyal to his team and his country. Kaepernick lost his place on the San Francisco team and no other team gave him a chance to win a place.

On the other hand, he won support and admiration from others, especially young people, for taking a principled stand and suffering severe personal consequences.

Surprisingly, at least to me, Nike decided that Kaepernick’s appeal to its potential customers, including youth and diverse groups, could be an asset. They hired him as a representative and advisor.

When he raised objections to the use of the first American flag, of course they needed to listen.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Kaepernick objected to that flag because it was used during the time when slavery existed in the country.

Also, it is reported that some hate groups use images of the first flag on their promotional materials.

So maybe Kaepernick and Nike have a point.

But their reasoning leaves some of us unconvinced.

That first 13-star flag is for many of us as American as the Fourth of July and apple pie. It is part of what still binds us together on Independence Day and every day.

It is as American as the 15-star flag that flew above Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key saw the bombs bursting in air and penned the words that became our national anthem.

It is as American as the 35-star flag that most often flew above the Union forces during the Civil War when hundreds of thousands of those forces died in a struggle to “make men free.”

It is as American as the 48-star flag that flew above American forces opposing oppression in two world wars and flew above the Supreme Court building when Brown v. Board of Education was decided.

Our country is not perfect. Not in the time of slavery. Not in the time of Jim Crow. Not today when the fight for equality is incomplete. But in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., the arc of the country and its history “bends toward justice.”

The flag that represents that country, 13 stars or 50, is worth fighting to protect from exploitation by racist and hate groups and from any efforts to smear it because of the actions of such groups.

Having taken up for the flag, why do I agree that the 13-star version has no place on Nike’s shoe?

Those who respect the flag should stand up when its value is diminished by commercial exploitation or unintentional disrespectful misuse.

Title 4 of the U.S. Code sets out directions for proper use of the flag. It provides for the manner of display of the flag, the occasions for raising and lowering it, and makes the following specific rules:

– The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever . . .

– It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like . . .

– The flag should never be used as wearing apparel . . .

Therefore, the American flag, 13 stars or 50 stars, does not belong on a shoe, Nike’s or anybody else’s.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sundays at 11 a.m. and Tuesdays at 5 p.m .on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and other times.