All along, the mismatch between Kenner city government and the worldwide brand of Nike was not going to end well for the former.
It’s good news that Mayor Ben Zahn is retreating from his inflammatory pledge to ban his city's recreation department from purchasing Nike products for use at city recreation facilities.
After a barrage of criticism and much social media attention, the mayor said he would back down based on advice from the city attorney.
“That memorandum divided our city and placed Kenner in a false and unflattering light on the national stage," Zahn added.
Well, what did Zahn expect?
Nike’s publicity machine got a real boost, beyond the controversy over its decision to use former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign. Kaepernick ignited a firestorm in 2016 when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice.
A lot of people didn’t like that protest but others did; Kaepernick was emulated by other players, to the vocal displeasure of folks from President Donald Trump on down. We think standing for the anthem has always been a good way to honor the blessings and the promise of America in spite of its imperfections.
The Zahn memo was ill-advised from the start, easy pickings for activists like Louisiana's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and public officials in New Orleans joined in the criticism.
Zahn's memorandum said Nike products could not be purchased for use at the city's recreation facilities. It also required the parks and recreation department director to approve all athletic purchases by booster clubs using their facilities. While he didn’t mention Kaepernick in the memo, the mayor’s deploring the company’s “political message” was an obvious reference.
"My patriotism will not waver," he said. "But my focus needs to be on the city of Kenner and the many great projects we have in store for our city."
We don’t disagree and wonder why his focus wandered this far in the first place, and even more so why he was issuing this kind of order without, apparently, consulting the city attorney in advance.
We agree with the mayor that Kenner, not only home of the airport but a thriving city in its own right, was not well-served by its public officials engaging national controversies without apparent consultation with others. That’s a recipe for climbdowns, and Zahn’s was embarrassing and inevitable, given the strong feelings provoked over the last couple of years by the Kaepernick protests.
And Nike sold some more apparel, with the mayor fueling a social-media buzz that should never have occurred.