The meaning of the flag and why Nike is throwing away money

When I was a young girl, my mother would tell me the story of the Betsy Ross flag every year around Independence Day. We read stories about how Ross cut the five-point stars and sewed them in a circle — thirteen stars to represent the thirteen colonies that united as a sovereign nation and declared themselves independent of Great Britain. The thirteen alternating red and white stripes also represent those thirteen original colonies.

While there is now speculation as to whether Ross actually contributed to the creation of the “Betsy Ross flag,” its symbolism remains the same.

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: "Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation" — a new union.

There were variants of the 13-star flag: Francis Hopkinson’s flag for the U.S. Navy featured 13 six-pointed stars arranged in rows. The arrangement didn’t matter as much as the number. Later on, stars were added when other colonies — or states — were added to the nation.

While the flag is sometimes misused, it has no real ties beyond its enduring meaning as a symbol of the thirteen colonies’ fight for independence from Great Britain. And if a shoe company featured a throwback to that original flag around Independence Day, it would be fitting and guaranteed to generate large revenue.

When I heard that Nike was to release red, white, and blue sneakers featuring the Betsy Ross flag, I wanted to buy myself a pair of them. I don’t usually spend $140 on a pair of sneakers, but I would do so for the Nike Air Max 1 USA sneakers. Besides, the style was versatile and the colors were toned down enough to match most things. I would speculate that many Americans would buy them, especially during this time of year.

But just as the shoes were ready to be released, after Nike had already sent their sneakers to retailers, they decided to nix the whole thing. Why? Because one endorser, ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, found the use of the Betsy Ross flag offensive.

As a spokeswoman for the company told the Wall Street Journal, “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.”

But as you may recall, Kaepernick is the same former quarterback who famously kneeled during the National Anthem starting in 2016. So to the former San Francisco 49er, it’s not really about the type of flag, it’s the American flag as a whole.

But we don’t see Nike pulling all of its patriotic-themed gear, because that would, of course, be a ridiculous loss of revenue just to favor one endorser. So why pull these shoes, especially when you’ve already produced them and had them hyped up online?

If anyone would have been offended by the shoes, they have already been offended by the company’s pre-promotion of the line. But Nike just lost a lot of revenue from everyone who would have bought the shoes. Instead of making a profit off of Independence Day-themed shoes around the 4th of July, Nike has decided to basically throw money in the trash and listen to one man impose his opinions on all Americans.

Rachel Kookogey is a contributor to
Follow on Twitter @rach_kookogey