NO.nikefolo.091118.014

Protest organizer Larry Morrow speaks against Mayor Ben Zahn's decision to ban recreational booster clubs from buying Nike gear after Colin Kaepernick advertisement, at the Susan Park Gym in Kenner, La., Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

There are powerful moral reasons to boycott Nike, which relies on sweatshop labor in such distant parts as Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam to turn out sports gear with the swoosh that says rip-off.

No American mayor is going to ban Nike products just because its factory hands work long shifts in often dangerous conditions for a few cents an hour. After all, if the company didn't exploit its workers, how could it pay star athletes millions upon effortless millions to shill for sneakers?

So, until now, Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn never had an unkind word to say about Nike. Only when Colin Kaepernick joined its stable of celebrity boosters did Zahn decree that Nike should never darken his recreation department's doorstep again.

Kaepernick may have ended his football career prematurely for the sake of principle. He was richly rewarded as a San Francisco 49er until he took a knee during the national anthem two seasons ago to protest racist police brutality. He quit and hasn't played anywhere since.

If team owners have colluded to give him the bum's rush, President Donald Trump heartily approves.

Some experts do not rate Kaepernick in the top rank of quarterbacks and suggest his days in the NFL were numbered anyway. But he was clearly willing to risk a great deal of money to advance a cause he and millions of others believe in.

Nike, whose passionate commitment runs more in the direction of moolah, cynically turns altruistic protest to commercial advantage. “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” the Kaepernick ad adjures. Make 'em imagine they're heroes, and they'll buy our gear, is evidently the theory.

It works, because whatever small-town Republican mayors might think of black athletes who dis Old Glory or The Star-Spangled Banner, this one is making sports goods fly off the shelves. As soon as Kaepernick showed up as pitchman, Nike reported a 31 percent surge in online sales.

Zahn's disapproval will no doubt have an impact on Nike's bottom line. His order attracted media attention nationwide, while Saints players and several public officials, including former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, weighed in to denounce it. The publicity Zahn has generated is worth a fortune.

The money that Nike pays Kaepernick, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams, say, is evidently a sound investment, although why is a mystery. Surely not even the dumbest customer believes athletic prowess will wear off on him if he wears a shirt with the right logo, while the idea that Nike can co-opt Kaepernick's belief in a cause is absurd. But Nike says just do it, over and over, and everyone just buys it. Only a shrink could explain sports marketing.

But the horror that the likes of Trump and Zahn display over a refusal to stand for the national anthem results from a confusion of principle with outward show. It is the ideas behind them, not the national symbols themselves, that need to be revered. It makes no sense for a flag that stands for free speech to command mindless obeisance.

Kaepernick and the players who followed his example were making an eloquent gesture, but not committing a crime or damaging property, like those treasonous ruffians who threw tea into Boston Harbor.

Without civil disobedience, the civil rights movement would have gotten nowhere, and the American anthem was famously dissed in that cause. Tommie Smith and John Carlos looked downward and raised black-gloved fists when it was played while they stood on the podium to receive their Olympic medals in 1968.

Smith and Carlos were widely denounced as traitors in those turbulent times, when Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his titles after being sentenced to five years for refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War. His conviction was overturned but not until he had lost more than three of his prime boxing years.

Kaepernick may not be the greatest quarterback, but Smith was the fastest man in the world in his day. He and Carlos have struggled to make ends meet; there were no lucrative advertising deals for recalcitrant black athletes in 1968.

Kaepernick was lucky enough to come along at a time when the idea of “sacrificing everything” could make a man rich.

Email James Gill at Gill1047@bellsouth.net.

'These policies are illegal': Hundreds, including area leaders, Saints players, protest Kenner Nike ban