Mugshots from a Union County jail sparked social media backlash this week after prominent activist and reporter Shaun King shared a collage of 18 booking photos of men and women wearing oversize black T-shirts with the iconic Nike swoosh. Citing an unnamed source, King accused the sheriff’s office of using the shirts to take political jabs at the sportswear company and Kaepernick.
News of the booking photos come nearly a month after Nike inked a deal with Kaepernick, making him the face of it’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.
The Sheriff in Union County, Arkansas is putting Nike t-shirts on people they arrest and making them wear them during mugshots.
Source says it is to mock Nike and Colin Kaepernick. Disgusting. pic.twitter.com/9z9Nw9hxuF
— Shaun King (@shaunking) October 11, 2018
“The Sheriff in Union County, Arkansas is putting Nike t-shirts on people they arrest and making them wear them during mugshots,” King wrote in a tweet. “Source says it is to mock Nike and Colin Kaepernick. Disgusting.”
Union County Sheriff Rick Roberts has disputed the claims, explaining in a Thursday news release that inmates outfitted with the t-shirts lacked “proper attire” upon being booked into the jail. Roberts noted that the shirts had been “deemed offensive” by certain people and that the agency would do its best to ensure “that this will never happen again.”
“It is not our intent, nor has it ever been our intent, to demean or disparage those who are innocent until proven guilty,” the sheriff said in the statement. “I require that my staff treat everyone with the utmost dignity and respect.”
As reported by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, at least 11 of the 182 inmates at the jail were wearing a “large, black T-shirt with NIKE ATHLETICS in boldface font above Nike’s signature check mark.” By 9 p.m. Wednesday, however, the sheriff’s office had removed each and every booking photo from the jail’s online roster.
That was less than an hour after King had posted about the photos.
The newspaper reported that the mugshots featuring the Nike shirts started appearing around Sept. 15, weeks after the Sept. 3 announcement of the Nike-Kaepernick deal. It noted, however, that there were other photos as far back as July of inmates wearing a different Nike shirt.
Roberts insisted the sheriff’s office didn’t buy the shirts, saying they were already “on hand and available.”
“We are not, and will not, be influenced by current political and social debates in the media,” the sheriff said. “This shirt is not only in use now, but has also been for several months prior.
Roberts ended his statement with an apology, saying he understood “the concern of those who may have found this offensive”
Kaepernick made headlines in 2016 when as a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers he began kneeling during pregame performances of the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality in America, an act that was heavily criticized by folks who saw the demonstration as a slight to the flag and U.S. military. News of the former NFL player’s Nike deal drew equally widespread anger, prompting some to burn their Nike gear.