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Amid uproar, Louisiana mayor rescinds order banning Nike products in wake of Kaepernick ad

A “Unity in Community” rally at Susan Park Playground Monday was organized as a “peaceful protest” in response to the memo written by Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn. (David Grunfeld /The Times-Picayune via AP)

The mayor of Kenner, La., a suburb of New Orleans, wanted to take a stand against those NFL players who choose not to during the national anthem. So after Nike announced on Labor Day that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of a new ad campaign honoring the iconic “Just Do It” slogan, Mayor Ben Zahn issued an order banning local booster clubs in Kenner from purchasing Nike apparel for use at public recreation facilities. The decision was met with immediate and fierce opposition from city residents as well as many around the country.

Whether Zahn heard his constituents or was more worried about the potential legal ramifications, the mayor rescinded his order Wednesday.

“That memorandum divided our city and placed Kenner in a false and unflattering light on the national stage,” Zahn said at a news conference Wednesday in Kenner (via the Associated Press), but not before stating that he made his decision on the advice of the city attorney.

On Monday, dozens gathered at a park in Kenner to protest the order. The crowd was mostly town residents but also included Cam Jordan and Terron Armstead of the New Orleans Saints.

“It’s promising to see everybody here,” Jordan said to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “It’s promising to see everybody having this in the forefront of their minds, to keep pushing for the further advancement of this community.”

At the event, several community members and local politicians urged protesters to make their voices heard by voting in upcoming elections.

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In a private memo sent on Sept. 5 that was leaked on social media, Zahn wrote: “Effective immediately all purchases made by any booster club operating at any Kenner Recreation Facility for wearing apparel, shoes, athletic equipment and/or any athletic product must be approved by the Director of Parks and Recreation, or his designee. 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.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU had called for Zahn to rescind the order. “This letter is to advise you that your actions are unconstitutional, and we strongly urge you to rescind your policy. The policy violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against content and viewpoint discrimination,” a letter sent to the mayor said.

Since Nike’s ad campaign was announced, videos have circulated on Twitter of people cutting the swoosh logo off their socks, or burning their Nike shoes, accompanied with hashtags like #JustBurnIt and #BoycottNike.

Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem at a preseason game in 2016 to call attention to the police killings of black people in the United States. He has earned plenty of critics in the ensuing years.

The Advocate reported earlier this month that before a rendition of the national anthem at an event called Freedom Fest, Zahn implored the crowd to get on their feet for the song.

“This is the city of Kenner,” he said. “In the city of Kenner we all stand.”

Kenner Councilman Gregory Carroll had a harsh rebuke of the ban, saying in a Facebook post that it is in “direct contradiction of what I stand for and what the City of Kenner should stand for.” In the post, he also added that the ban was enacted without any input from the city council.

On Monday afternoon, in response to the criticism, the mayor released a statement in an attempt to clarify his intentions.

“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,” he said.

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