Kenner’s Nike ban draws sharp criticism from Congressman Richmond

Some critics call it illegal
Published: Sep. 11, 2018 at 6:48 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Congressman Cedric Richmond added his voice to those blasting Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn after he issued an order last week to ban the purchase of Nike products from the city’s recreation programs.

Some critics are also questioning the legality of the directive.

Richmond, who represents parts of Kenner and serves as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, accused Zahn of “pandering” and called the order “shameful” in a statement Tuesday (Sept. 11).

Tulane Law Professor Keith Werhan said the mayor’s directive would likely not hold in court.

"To the extent the mayor would seek to terminate contracts, or end contracts that seems clearly barred by the Supreme Court decision,” he said.

Zahn’s memo does not mention contracts but states, “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."

According to Werhan, the order could be a violation of the First Amendment.

"To the extent the memo bars private entities like booster clubs for example from purchasing Nike products, that’s one step removed from the city making its own decision about whom to engage into contract with. It’s affecting the contractual rights of a private entity. It would seem to me to be a very clear violation of First Amendment if that prohibition extended to funds that are the booster funds that did not come from the city,” Werhan said.

The memo was issued after Nike released a new ad featuring former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick who stopped standing for the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police killings of African-Americans.

Congressman Richmond issued the following statement in response:

“After reading Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn’s memorandum demanding the immediate ban of Nike products for Kenner’s recreational facilities, I knew I had to publicly address yet another politician for senselessly attempting to further divide our community,” said Rep. Richmond. “We should take a moment to question why Nike is the top priority for a local politician when his residents face a variety of social and economic challenges. Mayor Zahn is imposing his personal beliefs onto Little League players, and I strongly oppose his stance.”

“My beloved home state, to which I have had the privilege of serving for nearly 20 years, like many others in our nation, has its fair share of problems. Louisiana’s educational system ranks 49th in the nation, our healthcare system ranks 47th in the nation, and Louisiana has one of the highest infant mortality rates at around 8%. I could go on with an additional list of challenges that all our communities and politicians face that we should collectively work together to solve, and that’s why Mayor Zahn has no business imposing this policy onto innocent children.”

“Nike is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise that has never contributed to the social and economic challenges in Louisiana. In fact, Nike donated more than 10 million dollars after Hurricane Katrina to build a stadium and track in Joe Brown Park for metro area children. Contrary to Mayor Zahn’s belief, Nike is not running a political campaign. Using the current controversy surrounding Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick as an excuse to rob resources from those who need it most in Kenner is a clear sign of Mayor Zahn’s pandering at the expense of the very children he is entrusted with guiding. It is shameful to divide such a close-knit community just for national political attention."

And while Professor Werhan believes any legal challenges related to the First Amendment would be better heard in federal court, he points out that the First Amendment, while providing protections, also has some dangers.

"There is a problem with the government using its financial leverage to try to pick and choose speakers with whom it approves, to penalize those who express beliefs with which they disagree and in fact, to subsidize the viewpoints of those that it does agree with. That’s the First Amendment problem here,” he said.

Kenner Councilman Greg Carroll has coached at city playgrounds and also criticized Zahn’s actions. Carroll said the city allocates $4,000 per playground for the purchase of equipment and supplies.

“The money goes to the booster clubs who have to send out purchase requests to purchase stuff …And the booster clubs obviously have their own fundraisers,” Carroll said.

While Mayor Zahn’s written statement applauded Nike’s message of inclusion and encouragement for everyone to be their best, he also defended his stance.

“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,” wrote Zahn.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.