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Hundreds pack gymnasium to rally against Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn’s ban on Nike products

Some Saints players showed up at rally to show support
Nike logo (Source: Pixabay.com)
Nike logo (Source: Pixabay.com)
Updated: Sep. 10, 2018 at 8:22 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A crowd of hundreds - including some New Orleans Saints players - packed a gymnasium in Kenner Monday (Sept. 10) for a rally against an act by the city’s mayor, Ben Zahn.

Last week, Zahn issued a memo banning Nike products from Kenner recreational facilities after the company featured former NFL quarterback Colin Kapernick in one of its new ads. While he was still in the league, Kaepernick stopped standing for the national anthem to protest racial injustice and the rate of police killings of African-Americans.

“I talked to Toron, I talked to Craig Robinson and a couple of other guys just about what’s all happening here. Honestly, we decided to show up and understand exactly what’s going on and how the people feel about this…and gain knowledge,” said Cam Jordan at the rally Monday evening.

A volunteer coach with the city of Kenner is appalled by Zahn’s actions. He said he and others go into their own pockets to buy equipment and other items for kids playing at Kenner playgrounds.

“They come up to me [saying] ‘Coach Brian I don’t have socks, or Coach Brian I don’t have a helmet or Coach Brian I don’t have pads.’ It don’t matter, we go into Academy real quick and that $20 or $30 is coming out of our pockets. No one’s going to tell me I can’t spend money on Nike products. What if Nike’s on sale?" said Brian Williams.

Williams said his own kids participate in playground activities and he is offended that the mayor is injecting political views into the topic of kids and sports.

"That memo kind of lost sight of the fact that our recreational department is primarily for children, it’s not for anyone to push political agendas on either side,” said Williams. “It’s a direct insult especially this memorandum was given on Sept. 5th, the same day that Nike released that ad of Colin Kaepernick, and knowing that he’s speaking for racial injustice and police brutality and social injustice.”

Pastor Kaseem Short’s church in Kenner, St. Thomas United Methodist, started a petition drive to get Zahn to change his tune.

"We initiated the petition to bring awareness of unjust act, using public, your personal beliefs to interfere with government and it should not be your personal beliefs,” said Pastor Short.

Kenner Native and former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile tweeted about her disappointment over Zahn’s actions and followed that with a letter to the editor of the Times Picayune/NOLA.Com.

But Zahn is not without supporters.

A man named Jason tweeted, “I support the Mayor of Kenner Ben Zahn for banning Nike products."

Steve Spell wrote, “Mayor Ben Zahn takes a stand in Kenner and now the left is trying hurt him over his decision to boycott Nike gear at the Parks Recreational Facilities.

And a woman with a twitter handle, Charleen tweeted, “Ben Zahn Thank You.”

Zahn refused FOX 8’s repeated request for an interview but issued the following statement in writing:

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," his statement reads.

A critic posted a video on social media of Zahn speaking recently at a public event about the national anthem. “She’s going to come out and do our national anthem because this is not the NFL football players, right? This is the city of Kenner and in the city of Kenner we all stand. We’re going to be proud of that,” Zahn said to cheers. "The issue is not the national anthem, the issue is protesting police brutality, social injustice,” Pastor Short said.

District 1 Kenner Councilman Greg Carroll urged Zahn to cancel his directive.

"It’s an over-step to tell someone not to work or deal with someone because all the relationships that we have afford certain individuals to get discounts from certain individuals, so they are able to get the more bang for their buck,” said Councilman Carroll.

City Councilman George Brannigan as well as Carroll said they had no prior knowledge that the mayor issued the memo.

FOX 8 News contacted all of the council members, but only Brannigan and Carroll responded.