It is historically uncertain whether Betsy Ross actually designed or sewed together the first American flag. Most likely, it is a myth mixed in with a moral lesson, like George Washington cutting down the cherry tree and telling the truth about it; or the humble Abraham Lincoln splitting rails.
The Ross flag looks largely like today’s American flag, save for the fact the original 13 stars were formed in a circle, supposedly to demonstrate that no one state was better than any other.
Through most of its 250 plus years, the Ross flag has been widely accepted as a patriotic symbol. The famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware shows the flag in the boat. Large-size Ross flags were displayed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Now, the flag is suddenly — and seriously — in the news.
Nike decided to put the flag on the heel of a new Air Max 1 USA shoe.
Then, Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who became controversial for kneeling during the national anthem, told Nike the Ross flag was a symbol for the right-wing Patriot Movement. He’s right. Google up Patriot Movement, and the Ross flag is there.
Nike pulled the shoes off the shelves. They have every right to do that. No one can force someone to sell a product. It’s also hard to make a profit selling products that any significant number of people find offensive. Let us add that Nike, hopefully, unintentionally, benefitted from the controversy. Nike stock rose, as the company was seen as understanding. Meanwhile, those shoes that could be found in the internet had their price bid up — dramatically.
The list of Patriot Movement symbols does not stop with Ross. Their logos include the head of the American eagle; a minuteman holding a musket; and the head and crown of the Statue of Liberty.
It becomes a question of intent at times. The eagle, for example, is widely used as a link to environmental causes. Does a photo of the head of a bald eagle mark you as an ecologist? Or as racially insensitive?
There needs to be a way to mark such longtime symbols to make true patriotic intent clear. These symbols belong to all of us. They should stand for all of us, include all of us. We should not let them be appropriated by a small group.
Sometimes, too, the discussion should not be about the past as much as it should be about the future.