Mayor Rescinds Recreation Department Nike Ban

Paul Steinbach Headshot

A switch regarding the swoosh. Ben Zahn, the Kenner, La., mayor who last week banned his parks and recreation department from using taxpayer or booster funds to purchase Nike apparel for nine youth playgrounds has changed his mind amid political and legal pressure.

Zahn issued his directive Sept. 5, two days after Nike launched an advertisement marking the 30th anniversary of the company's "Just Do It" campaign with controversial former NFL quarter Colin Kaepernick as its focus. In the ad, Kaepernick, a divisive figure ever since sitting or kneeling during the national anthem before games beginning in August 2016 to protest racial injustice, is pictured with the caption, "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."

The ad prompted personal boycotts of the Nike brand across the country (even though sales have spiked since the ad's debut), but Zahn's ban drew national attention. That is what he regrets most, stating that his directive "placed Kenner in a false and unflattering light on the national stage." He rescinded it on the advice of the city attorney in the hopes of "bringing this city back together."

According to The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, two critics of the original directive voiced their satisfaction in its reversal. 

"I was completely against the policy. I support inclusion and social justice," said Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears Jr., generally an ally of Zahn's in his previous time on the Parish Council. "I have been in communication with Mayor Zahn to voice my disapproval with this policy and am grateful the policy has been rescinded."

"We're pleased the mayor reconsidered his divisive stance and rescinded this unconstitutional policy," said Alanah Odoms Hebert, the executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "The reversal of this ban is good news for the people of Kenner and all Louisianians, who have a constitutional right to express their political views free from government censorship or discrimination."

When Zahn was asked if he sought legal advice before issuing the ban in the first place, he stated, "There was consulting, but the city attorney at that point was understanding the motivation, what I was trying to do, and the Legal Department has stood behind that. But of course now we are seeing where this is going and we wanted to stop."

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