POLITICS
09/10/2018 07:24 am ET Updated Sep 13, 2018

Louisiana Mayor Rescinds City Ban On Recreation Facilities Buying Nike Products

The Kenner mayor had issued the order days after Nike hired former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for an advertising campaign.

The mayor in Louisiana has rescinded a ban on his city’s recreation facilities buying Nike products. 

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Kenner Mayor E. Ben Zahn said that his decision had been made on the advice of the city attorney

“That memorandum divided our city and placed Kenner in a false and unflattering light on the national stage,” Zahn said. 

The memo, which was issued days after Nike hired former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for its new advertising campaign, also demanded that certain purchases made by sports booster clubs for use at city recreation facilities be approved by the city. 

 “Under no circumstances will any Nike product or any product with the Nike logo be purchased for use or delivery at any City of Kenner Recreation facility,” the mayor wrote.

Kaepernick sparked a wave of protests by NFL players in 2016 when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana had called upon the mayor to rescind his “unconstitutional policy.

In the wake of widespread criticism, Zahn had defended the memo, saying he hoped his decision would “protect taxpayer dollars from being used in a political campaign.”

“I applaud Nike’s message of inclusion and encouragement for everyone to be their best and dream big,” Zahn wrote in a statement. “But I also recognize that Nike, in its zeal to sell shoes, chose to promote and sell a political message.”

(Read the mayor’s full statement below.)

The backlash to Nike’s advertising campaign was immediate, with conservatives calling for a boycott and destroying their own Nike items. An outraged President Donald Trump attacked the company on Twitter and falsely claimed it was “getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts.” 

Nike’s online sales jumped double digits since the campaign was announced.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a statement on Monday, calling Zahn’s mandate “out of step” with “the values the people of New Orleans stand for.”

“Although the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is located in Kenner, it is owned and governed by the City of New Orleans,” Cantrell said. “Let me assure you that our airport will continue to uphold our City’s values.”

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Kenner City Councilman Gregory Carroll described the mayor’s memo as “disturbing” and said he was “100% AGAINST this decision.” 

“I was not made aware of this decision beforehand and it is in direct contradiction of what I stand for and what the City of Kenner should stand for,” Carroll said. “I will meet with the Mayor and other Council members in an effort to rescind this directive.”

The mayor “just got caught up in all this stuff and made a move off the cuff,” Carroll added to BuzzFeed

Jay Banks, a city council member from neighboring New Orleans, posted a picture of himself on Facebook holding a Nike shirt.

“I was in church when I received a copy of the letter from the Mayor of Kenner,” Banks wrote. “I have never felt a need to purchase one of these before but I am compelled now.”

Read Mayor Zahn’s full statement:

Private, for-profit companies have every right to advertise how they wish, even if it means using advertising to promote corporate political beliefs. Individuals also have every right to support or oppose any company or brand for any reason. Those freedoms should never be lost.

I applaud Nike’s message of inclusion and encouragement for everyone to be their best and dream big. But I also recognize that Nike, in its zeal to sell shoes, chose to promote and sell a political message. 

In Kenner, like every city, our citizens and our taxpayers cover a wide spectrum of political philosophies and agendas. We must respect all of those agendas and philosophies. So, when a company uses its advertising as its own political megaphone, government should be fair to all of its people and not allow taxpayer dollars to be used to help that company push its own political agenda.

My decision is only to protect taxpayer dollars from being used in a political campaign. Some have asked if people will be allowed to wear Nike apparel on city playgrounds. The answer to that is … of course.

My internal memo draws the line on letting companies profit from taxpayers by espousing political beliefs. My decision disallowing Nike from profiting from our taxpayers while they are using their powerful voice as a political tool is my message. This government will not let taxpayer dollars be used to promote a company’s or individual’s political position, platform or principle. That’s my position as a matter of fairness to all.

Hayley Miller and Saba Hamedy contributed reporting. 

This article has been updated to include Zahn’s statements at a news conference Wednesday in which he rescinded the ban.

CLARIFICATION: Language in the headline and story has been amended to clarify that not all Nike products were banned from the city’s recreation facilities. 

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