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.

Just in case you missed recent news reports, Nike’s plan to put a small replica 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 49ers 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 adviser.

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 to the 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 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.

The U.S. Congress has approved a set of directions for proper use of the flag. It provides for the manner of display of the flag, the occasions for raising and lowering the flag, and makes the following specific rules:

n The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever …

n It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like …

n 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,” Sunday at 11 a.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m., on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8 p.m. and at other times.

(4) comments

Conrad Meyer

Meanwhile, back on the original premise of the piece, I have a story to tell. Back when I entered the third grade, I was selected along with two classmates as the designated flag handlers for our grade 1-6 government elementary school. I was sent to a class on a Saturday which was administered by the Foreign Legion where I was educated on the proper handling of the flag, its history, and meaning. Upon graduation, I was tasked with raising the flag early each morning and lowering it at the end of the school day. Of course, if there was inclement weather, we scrambled to lower and properly fold the flag. Once we graduated the third grade, we handed off the responsibility to the incoming class. I have the utmost respect for the flag and would never consider desecrating it in any way including wearing those tennis shoes. I realize times have changed, but the flag should never be used for commercial purposes.

Jim Tomashoff

Kent lives in his own private universe (I guess that's a more polite way of saying he is historically ignorant, and a true believer of conspiracy theories, of which The War of Northern Aggression is one). I'd love for him to educate us on how "The bogus claims of discrimination from police (toward African-Americans) were quickly debunked." But he won't.

Kent Misegades

“during the Civil War when hundreds of thousands of those forces died in a struggle to “make men free.” Same old government school nonsense about the cause of the War of Northern Aggression, an invasion from the North to prevent Confederate states from exercising their Constitutional right of secession.

Kent Misegades

“he won support and admiration from others, especially young people, for taking a principled stand and suffering severe personal consequences.“ Just what was his principled stand about? The bogus claims of discrimination from police, all of which were quickly debunked?

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