Nike Corporation’s decision to pull its Air Max 1 Quick Strike running shoes on the Fourth of July on the suggestion of one of its celebrity-athlete endorsers, Colin Kaepernick, brings to mind a minor episode in the 90’s. In 1996, populist. consumer activist, and possible 2000 Presidential Election spoiler Ralph Nader (remember him, Al Gore?) mailed the 100 largest chartered corporations in America a letter in which Nader requested the CEO of each company stand up at shareholder meetings to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Not the board, of course, as there might be foreign nationals serving on it, but merely the CEO, as the living representative of the corporate entity.
His purpose in this was simple, and was classic Nader: if CEOs wished corporations to meet the legal definition of “people”, then why shouldn’t companies based in the United States, subject to law and all the benefits our nation offers, pledge an oath of loyalty to our flag and country?
Out of 100 corporations, only 34 responded, all with corporate maunder of various stripes rejecting the proposal, except one–Federated Department Stores, Inc. (now Macy’s Inc.), which stated they felt the Pledge was indeed a great idea.
Fast forward to 2019–has Nike made the corporate decision that anti-Americanism is a winning approach? Don’t people who love and respect their country as founded buy overpriced shoes, too?
The many flags of our nation have flown over privateers and patriots, scoundrels and honest folk, slavers and abolitionists alike. Philadelphian Betsy Ross herself, who created the flag, owned no slaves, yet one of her husbands did (Betsy was widowed twice–her first and second husbands were both killed in the Revolution). Ben Franklin, Philadelphia’s most famous resident and Betsy’s contemporary, owned two slaves as a younger man, yet freed his slaves and became an ardent abolitionist later in life. Put in plain terms, Franklin grew, much as the perspectives of the nation grew after him. Isn’t this the story of America?
It certainly is the story of Nike, whose founder, Phil Knight, once admitted: “the Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse.” The Nike brand profited mightily from such policies, including child labor, from its founding in the 1970’s, until the corporation finally was embarrassed into mending its ways. This was thanks to a groundbreaking Life Magazine article in 1996, including the notorious photo showing a child stitching soccer balls for the multinational company.
Perhaps that is the image they should stitch on the backs of the new Nike Air Max 1 Quick Strike shoe.