A shoe, a governor, a quarterback: Kaepernick remains impactful figure as Ducey, Nike drama reveals

PHOENIX – As Monday night slipped into Tuesday morning, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s tweets began to appear. For an account often dedicated to sharing the governor’s gratitude for firefighters, troops returning from battle and other public servants, a 2 a.m. thread seemed out of the ordinary.

By 2:06 am, the dust had settled on Ducey’s nine-tweet thread, which concluded with him pulling funding for a proposed Nike plant located in Goodyear, and his message began to materialize. What began with shoes, quickly transformed into a condemnation of Nike and their “(conscious) denigration of our country’s history,” the “political correctness and historical revisionism” that was motivating Nike’s decision, and of indirectly, Colin Kaepernick.

More than 900 days have passed since Kaepernick last suited up for an NFL game, yet his presence still looms large in most discussions involving race in America. The mere mention of his name incites intense, visceral reactions from both sides of the political spectrum, and his sway over the current political landscape is unique to the modern-day athlete.

“It’s certainly the way (Kaepernick) combined his moment of protest with a moment of patriotism,” said Kenneth L. Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute and an Adidas Distinguished of Global Sport at Arizona State University. “People were not able to separate his focus in ‘this is the way I’ll get people’s attention to understand my concerns about social justice’ from (how) he chose to kneel during the national anthem.”

Kaepernick’s most recent foray into the public conversation stems from Nike’s decision to cancel the sale of the Air Max 1 USAs. The shoe, slated to hit shelves this weekend in celebration of the Fourth of July, featured a design commonly referred to as the Betsy Ross flag. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kaepernick reached out to Nike to express concern he and others felt over the offensive nature of the flag and the complicated message that has been associated with it.

Colin Kaepernick’s voice continues to be heard, even though his NFL career ended after kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Nike, who announced Kaepernick as a leading spokesperson this past September, responded swiftly and requested all retailers return the Air Max 1 USAs back to Nike before they could be sold to the general public.

“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,” a Nike spokeswoman said.

Outrage over the decision followed but was amplified by Ducey’s string of early morning tweets. The governor began his thread by sharing his disappointment and embarrassment over Nike’s decision, and ended it by withdrawing the nearly $1 million in financial incentives approved by the Goodyear City Council for a new Nike plant in Goodyear. The facility was proposed to be an $185 million investment from Nike, and was likely to provide over 500 jobs, according to city records.

Ducey’s proclamation has been met with widespread support from Arizona Republicans. Sen. Martha McSally voiced her encouragement for Ducey, tweeting, “We must respect the flag and honor those who died defending it,” and added she believed Nike was wrong. Eric Sloan, a Republican candidate for the Arizona Corporate Commission, issued a strongly worded statement expressing his support for the governor’s decision.

“I am proud to support the Governor and his strong decision, especially regarding the recent news about Nike’s decision to pull the Betsy Ross flag off its shoes, because irrelevant Colin Kaepernick said it was ‘offensive,’” Sloan said. “I’m happy that the Governor isn’t giving a platform to companies that are embarrassed and retreat from our great country and its flourishing heritage.

“While Colin Kaepernick chose to drop on his knees, our brave veterans and soldiers chose to stand and sacrifice everything they have to defend our country, our freedoms, and most importantly … our democracy.”

Kaepernick is no stranger to criticism, yet this most recent controversy reveals a new depth to his work as a social activist. Although the early stages of Kaepernick’s movement were mostly self-contained, he has now partnered with a company in Nike that has associations ranging all across the political spectrum.

“Nike has chosen to roll the dice with him, so this just seems to be just another step in that direction,” Shropshire said. “Kaepernick is a guy who has given up his career for political activism, and he understands his brand and how to use his brand and how to step out further than he has before.”

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