The shoe company Sperry has suspended its sponsorship of the annual Charleston Race Week over a Confederate flag “motif” on the flag of the sailing event’s parent group.
The leaders of Race Week and Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA), which runs the event, say they will work with association members and Sperry to reach a resolution.
In August, according to The Post and Courier, CORA members voted against a proposal to remove the group’s representative flag, or “burgee.” The banner bears elements reminiscent of the Confederate flag, including white stars arranged along a blue stripe through the red triangular flag.
Joelle Grunberg, Sperry’s global brand president, said in a statement to Charleston City Paper that the company’s decision to suspend its sponsorship is dependent on action from CORA.
“CORA’s logo currently includes a motif on its flag that resembles the Confederate battle flag, and Sperry in no way supports the Confederate flag and what it stands for. The flag runs contrary to Sperry’s values as a welcoming and inclusive brand. Sperry has suspended its sponsorship of Charleston Race Week, and the future of the sponsorship is contingent upon CORA removing the Confederate flag from its official logo.”
Sperry is a subsidiary of Wolverine World Wide, which also owns Saucony, Chaco, Keds, Merrell and other casual and workwear footwear companies. Sperry has also sponsored The America’s Cup and US Sailing.
In a joint statement, CORA Commodore Andrew Guhl and Race Week Event Director Randy Draftz defended the flag’s origins and CORA itself as an “all-inclusive sailing organization open to all Charleston area sailors.”
“The CORA burgee was designed with four stars to represent the four Charleston yacht clubs at the time. The designers of the CORA burgee never intended for it to resemble the Confederate flag, but its unfortunate resemblance has caused understandable concern.”
Guhl and Draftz said, “We will continue to work with Sperry, our membership and others to address this issue.”
A packet pitching 2020 sponsorships found on the Charleston Race Week website said the event brings a $4 million economic impact to the area, boasting the regatta as a “destination event” with 267 participating boats in 2019. Race Week’s key demographic is two-thirds male, each own an average of 3.6 boats and have “extraordinary buying power,” according to the packet.
Currently, neither the CORA website nor the Charleston Race Week website display the flag. But a cached version of charlestonoceanracing.com from October 2019 includes the burgee at the top of the page, according to the Internet Archive.
The 2020 Charleston Race Week, scheduled for April, was canceled due to COVID-19.
The Confederate flag’s symbolism has drawn increased scrutiny since the Emanuel AME Church shooting in 2015 by an avowed white supremacist who revered the flag.
Sperry is not the first company to respond to Confederate flag controversy. Major retailers including Amazon and Walmart vowed to stop selling Confederate memorabilia in the days immediately following the Emanuel murders.