ARIZONA — Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Nike’s decision to cancel a sneaker that featured the “Betsy Ross” version of the American flag amidst backlash over the company’s use of the late 18th century design.
“I read today that instead of celebrating the birth of our nation, a shoe company has deemed the flag, which flew during our Independence, too offensive … too offensive to put on a pair of shoes,” McConnell said at an event in Kentucky.
A Nike spokesperson told CNN that the company decided to halt distribution of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July shoe “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
“We regularly make business decisions to withdraw initiatives, products and services,” Nike told CNN in a statement.
McConnell said Tuesday that “If we’re in a political environment where the American Flag has become controversial to Americans, I think we’ve got a problem.”
McConnell said he hopes Nike either reneges its decision and releases the limited-edition shoe, or that a different designer picks up the idea and sells shoes featuring the same version of the flag.
“I’ll make the first order,” he said.
For his part, Ducy has ordered a financial incentive package for Nike to be withdrawn because the company canceled a sneaker featuring the “Betsy Ross” American flag.
In a series of tweets early Tuesday, the Republican governor said he was disappointed in Nike’s “terrible” decision, which he called a “shameful retreat.” Ducey said he believes Nike’s action shows it lacks pride and appreciation for American history. He condemned the company for bowing to political correctness.
Ducey ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under its discretion that the state was providing for Nike to build a factory in Goodyear, Arizona, which is near Phoenix.
“Arizona’s economy is doing just fine without Nike,” he said. “We don’t need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation’s history.”
It’s unclear how much money from the incentive plan is under the state’s jurisdiction. The city of Goodyear entered into an agreement with Nike in May to waive about $1 million in permit and review fees for a manufacturing facility the company plans to build there. The city of Goodyear also said it would reimburse Nike up to $1 million for a total of 505 jobs the company promised to create at the plant.
Nike said it remains committed to the plant and disputed Ducey’s characterization of its decision to pull the sneaker.
“Nike is a company proud of its American heritage and our continuing engagement supporting thousands of American athletes including the US Olympic team and US Soccer teams,” the company said in a statement. “We already employ 35,000 people in the US and remain committed to creating jobs in the US, including a significant investment in an additional manufacturing center which will create 500 new jobs.”
The Governor’s office and the Arizona Commerce Authority did not respond to requests for comment.
Nike agreed to buy an existing building in Goodyear by June 2020 and invest $185 million in the first phase of expanding the plant over the next three years, according to documents from the City of Goodyear.
The controversy was sparked late Monday after it said it would not release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July, “based on concerns that it could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Nike delivered the sneakers to retailers, but asked stores to return them to Nike after the company received a complaint from former NFL star Colin Kaepernick. The newspaper indicated Kaepernick said he and others found the shoe offensive because of its ties to America’s era of slavery.
Kaepernick did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Nike signed the former San Franciso 49ers quarterback in September 2018. He was one of the faces for the brand’s 30th anniversary commemoration of its iconic “Just Do It” slogan.
The deal immediately drew criticism because he’s partly known for kneeling during the National Anthem during games. He did that to raise awareness about police brutality against African-Americans and other racial injustices. Dozens of other players began joining Kaepernick, and he has become a symbol of the dividing lines over race in America.
Despite that, Nike signed Kaepernick because it knew he would attract younger American shoppers and remains an important spokesman for Nike.
In a CNN poll released after the signing among people ages 18 to 34, 44% supported Nike’s decision to use Kaepernick. In the 35-to-44 age bracket, the decision earned support among a majority, 52%, compared to 37% who were against it.