Nike Inc. defended its decision to pull a July Fourth shoe from shelves after NFL-star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick objected to the design, a move that stoked controversy inside and outside the sneaker giant.
Some Nike employees said they were surprised by Mr. Kaepernick’s involvement in the product, which featured a flag created during the American Revolution and commonly referred to as the Betsy Ross flag. The Nike endorser was concerned about what he believed are its associations with an era of slavery and its adoption by some extremist groups, according to people familiar with the matter.
Nike’s private decision, revealed in a Wall Street Journal article Monday, sparked a national debate over the historic emblem. Arizona’s Republican governor pulled his support for a planned Nike factory; New Mexico’s Democratic governor invited the company to her state. So many social-media users weighed in to criticize or defend the move that colonial seamstress “Betsy Ross” was one of the most discussed topics on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Nike said it is “proud of its American heritage” and made the decision “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
The company didn’t send Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, the shoe to approve, and he wasn’t a planned part of its release, people familiar with the matter said. Athletes typically have a say only in products that bear their names, such as signature shoes for LeBron James.
The governor of Arizona seized on the controversy to announce he was withdrawing financial incentives the state had promised Nike to open a plant. A spokeswoman for the Arizona Commerce Authority said it was withdrawing a grant of up to $1 million at the governor’s direction.
“Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision,” Gov. Doug Ducey wrote in a string of messages on Twitter. “I am embarrassed for Nike.”
In response, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the opportunity to woo the company to her state. “Hey Nike, let’s talk,” she wrote in a tweet.
Nike was considering a $185 million investment to open a manufacturing facility in Goodyear, Ariz., that would employ about 500 people, according to city records. On Monday, the Goodyear City Council approved a package of incentives that would reimburse the company about $1 million in planning fees and about $4,000 for each full-time employee Nike hires, the records show.
Nike said Tuesday it was committed to opening an additional U.S. manufacturing center that would create 500 new jobs. A spokeswoman didn’t say whether Nike would stick with the plans in Arizona.
SOURCE: Khadeeja Safdar, Andrew Beaton and Cameron McWhirter
The Wall Street Journal