In the wake of Nike’s announcement that Colin Kaepernick — the quarterback who 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 — would be one of the faces of the company’s 30th anniversary “Just do it” advertising campaign, the mayor of a Louisiana town took official action in protest against Nike.
Ben Zahn III, mayor of the Jefferson Parish city of Kenner, issued an memo to the Director of Parks and Recreation requiring that “any booster club operating at any Kenner Recreation Facility” clear all purchases of apparel, shoes, and athletic equipment and products with that director. The memo also declared that “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:
It disappoints me that this is happening in my state. The Mayor of Kenner is trying to ban all Nike apparel and equipment from children’s sports and playgrounds. I would like to have a conversation with him when i return from this European Tour. Not to fuss, just to build. pic.twitter.com/gRCoCN3nQP
— Dee-1; IG @dee1music (@Dee1music) September 9, 2018
Kenner city councilman Gregory Carroll took to Facebook to express his opposition to the mayor’s “disturbing” memorandum, stating that he was “not made aware of this decision beforehand” and that he would be meeting “with the Mayor and other Council members in an effort to rescind this directive”:
As quoted by BuzzFeed News, the councilman also noted that “the memo didn’t ‘make a lot of sense,’ since the city doesn’t spend a lot on Nike equipment or apparel, given its cost”:
“If we spent $1,000 on Nike, that would be a lot,” he mused. “And we can’t discriminate against anybody or company because of our laws. If we did, we’d be breaking our own rules. I think [the mayor] just got caught up in all this stuff and made a move off-the-cuff. We’re all trying to figure out where this came from.”
Jay Banks, a city council member from nearby New Orleans, also took to social media to post a picture of himself holding a Nike shirt outside a Nike-branded store, declaring that “I have never felt a need to purchase one of these before but I am compelled now”:
Mayor Zahn subsequently released a statement asserting that his intent was “to protect taxpayer dollars from being used in a political campaign”:
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.