Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism Senior Research Fellow Mark Pitcavage told the Associated Press (AP) on July 3 that the Betsy Ross flag is “innocuous” and isn’t typically used as white supremacist imagery.
Nike announced on July 2 that they were pulling shoes featuring the Betsy Ross flag – the original America flag depicting the 13 colonies at the time of America’s founding – after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said that white supremacists were appropriating the flag. Nike made Kaepernick the face of its “Just Do It” campaign in 2018.
Pitcavage told CNBC that while white supremacists occasionally use the flag, he has never seriously thought about adding the Betsy Ross flag to the ADL’s database of hate symbols.
“We view it as essentially an innocuous historical flag,” Pitcavage told the AP. “It’s not a thing in the white supremacist movement.”
Nike said in a statement that they pulled the shoes because they didn’t want the shoes to “unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.”
The Betsy Ross flag previously came under controversy in 2016, when students at Forest Hills Central High School in Michigan held the flag in the opponents’ stands during a football game against Ottawa Hills High School. Ottawa Hills parents said at the time that the flag made them feel uncomfortable because Ottawa Hills has a high number of black students and parents. Forest Hills Superintendent Dan Behm said at the time that the flag was being waved as part of school’s “red, white and blue” theme night and that the students didn’t mean any harm. He later apologized.
The New York Times found a couple of instances where the Ku Klux Klan utilized the flag in 2017.
According to History.com, General George Washington asked Betsy Ross to sew the first American flag it what was believed to be in 1776 or 1777; however, there is some doubt on if Ross actually had a role in the creation of the first American flag.
For varying perspectives on the Nike and Betsy Ross flag debate, check out the Jewish Journal’s July 3 Roundtable here.