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Nike Kicks Up Controversy With 'Black And Tan' Shoes

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One of Nike's latest sneaker creations — dubbed by retailers "The Black and Tan" — is rolling out just in time for St. Patrick's Day. To many Americans the "Black and Tan" is the half stout, half pale ale drink. But to the Irish, it was a brutal paramilitary group employed by the British in the early twentieth century to put down Irish revolutionary fighters. Robert Siegel and Melissa Block have the story.


If you love Saint Patrick's Day but you hate green, Nike has the shoe for you, or so it thought.


The athletic apparel behemoth is releasing a new version of its SB Dunk Low, a popular casual shoe. It is black and tan-colored. And since we're getting close to Saint Paddy's Day, the shoe has a nickname that is apparently beer-inspired - the Black and Tan.

BLOCK: And that's where Nike gets into trouble. Here in the U.S. or in Britain, you might order a Black and Tan at a pub and get a mixture of an Irish stout, such as Guinness, and a lager, like Harp. But that's not the original meaning of Black and Tan.

SIEGEL: I talked today with Brian Boyd of The Irish Times newspaper, and he explained.

BRIAN BOYD: It has certain historical associations. The Black and Tans were a ruthless auxiliary force of the British army before we became independent in the 1920s. They were responsible for wide-scale massacres, butchering of people. You would not - we don't even - for example, in the U.S. you may go into a bar and ask for a drink called a Black and Tan.

SIEGEL: And that would be - I'm not saying this from great personal familiarity - that would be a half of a black beer, like a Guinness, and a half of a pale ale with it. But you wouldn't call it that in Ireland?

BOYD: No, we'd use different terms. And in fact, we wouldn't really dilute our Guinness over here. It's not really the done thing to do.

BLOCK: Now, Nike has released a statement saying: We apologize, no offense was intended. At the same time, Nike says the sneaker has been, quote, unofficially named by some as the Black and Tan.

SIEGEL: That said, if you look inside the shoe - as we have done with online photos - you see an image of a pint of beer with two colors, black and tan.

BLOCK: Brian Boyd of The Irish Times has reported on some outrage over the shoe. But really, he says, it's not about a shoe. It's about a holiday.

BOYD: It's how the Americans view Saint Patrick's Day and view Irish culture and history. And it's the very fact that some people are saying that these are beer-themed sneakers, that the only way to celebrate a national holiday of a country with a very rich culture and a very rich history and literature, et cetera, is to pour massive amounts of alcohol down your body.

It's how the American treat St. Patrick's Day. So we're using this story to say, look, it's the silly Americans, stupid Americans, look what they're doing again. They've got it all wrong.

SIEGEL: Which is, by the way, a default mode for journalism across the pond.

BLOCK: But still, it seems Nike did not have its smartest moment with the Black and Tan shoe.

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