An Arkansas county sheriff has reportedly been making inmates wear Nike shirts in their mugshots, and a local activist claims that the sheriff is using inmates as a prop to make a point about Nike and Colin Kaepernick.
Union County, Arkansas, is a small, rural county deep in the woods along the Louisiana border. Local activist Shaun King, when looking at mug shots of suspects taken into the county jail, noticed something: many of them were wearing Nike shirts.
Nike, you may remember, recently named Colin Kaepernick as a spokesperson, putting the athletic wear manufacturer at odds with police departments all over the country. Kaepernick famously got the ball rolling (no pun intended) on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem. Kaepernick has said that he did so to call attention to police brutality.
King put two and two together and concluded that Union County Sheriff Ricky Roberts was making perps wear the shirts as a sort of dig against Nike and Kaepernick, according to The Arkansas Democrat Gazette. King even compiled a montage of photos of inmates wearing the shirts for their mugshots.
“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.”
The Sheriff in Union County, Arkansas is putting Nike t-shirts on people they arrest and making them wear them during mugshots.— Shaun King (@shaunking) October 11, 2018
Source says it is to mock Nike and Colin Kaepernick. Disgusting. pic.twitter.com/9z9Nw9hxuF
King, however, did not name his source.
Reporters from the Democrat Gazette attempted to contact Roberts on Wednesday night but were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach Chief Deputy Charles Phillips were also unsuccessful.
By Thursday morning, two things had happened. First, according to KLRT-TV (Little Rock), the sheriff’s office had removed booking photos from all suspects from the jail roster on its website (indeed, as of the time of the writing of this post, there were no photos of any of the inmates available).
Second, Roberts did, in fact, respond to the controversy. In a statement made available via CBS News, Roberts insisted that the Nike shirts are not intended as a dig at Colin Kaepernick, or indeed used to make any kind of a statement at all. Rather, he says, suspects who are brought into the jail not wearing “appropriate attire” are given something to wear for their mug shot. He also says that the jail began booking perps in the Nike shirts months before the Nike-Kaepernick deal was announced.
“We are not, and will not, be influenced by current political and social debates in the media. This shirt is not only in use now, but has also been for several months prior. We have taken steps to rectify this issue and insure that this will never happen again.”
Whether or not that’s true, however, remains in dispute. Though Roberts told the Democrat Gazette that the Nike shirts had been in the jail for the inmates to wear since July, the paper reviewed booking shots and noticed that they didn’t start appearing in mug shots until September 15 – about two weeks after the Nike-Kaepernick deal was announced.