Kenner memo

The culture wars hit Kenner over the weekend, with a bang heard ’round the social media world.

A memo from Mayor Ben Zahn banning booster clubs at Kenner recreational facilities from buying Nike products — apparently in response to new Nike ads featuring quarterback Colin Kaepernick — produced a quick backlash, with some officials and public figures taking to social media to denounce the move.

"I was not made aware of this decision beforehand and it is in direct contradiction of what I stand for and what the city of Kenner should stand for. I am 100 percent AGAINST this decision," Kenner District 1 City Councilman Gregory Carroll said in a Facebook post. "I will meet with the mayor and other council members in an effort to rescind this directive."

The memo, which Zahn signed on Wednesday, declared: “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.”

But Carroll wasn’t alone in not knowing the city had new rules.

Joe Sensebe, the president of the city’s Woodlake booster club, said no one had told him about the memo until word started spreading Sunday.

District 4 Councilman George Branigan also said he was caught off-guard when the memo was shared on social media, saying in an interview he had not seen it or even heard about it before the weekend.

Nike has recently found itself the subject of national controversy after running new commercials featuring former NFL quarterback Kaepernick, who had been widely criticized — and supported — for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem when he was with the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick chose to kneel as a protest against police killings of African-Americans.

Many other players followed suit, especially during the 2017 season, leading to frequent criticism from President Donald Trump and numerous others. Kaepernick has not played in the league since 2016.

Although Zahn did not respond Sunday to requests for comment, he did speak on the issue a week earlier at Kenner's Freedom Fest at the Lake.

"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. In the city of Kenner we all stand," he told the crowd prior to a performance of the anthem.

Carroll said he respects opposing viewpoints, but that quietly turning those viewpoints into city policy isn’t something he can get behind.

“What is this? We just had a council meeting Thursday. I didn’t know about this,” he said in an interview.

Carroll added that he spoke briefly with the mayor Sunday, mainly to confirm that the memo was real, since he was so shocked to hear it existed.

Also surprised to hear the news was Kenner native and former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile, who tweeted a picture of the memo Sunday along with the comment, "disappointed in my beloved city of Kenner."

Others who spoke out included liberal activist Shaun King, former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite and New Orleans City Councilman Jay Banks, who posted a picture of himself on Facebook showing off a new Nike shirt he said he bought Sunday.

Jacqueline Brown-Cockerham, a preacher based in Kenner, said she also likes Nike, but the bigger deal is that the mayor made the decision in the first place.

“It’s not a disrespect for the flag, but you’re telling me that you’d rather talk about a piece of cloth (the flag) and you hold that value more than you hold the lives of black people,” said Brown-Cockerham, whose mentally ill nephew Armand Brown was shot and killed by Kenner police in January 2017 after he armed himself with a knife.

Carroll, who lost to Zahn in a runoff for Kenner mayor in 2016, said the mayor should have taken other opinions into account on an issue like this.

“We look different, we represent people who are different, we’re in different parties, so ... my ears are going to hear it differently from the rest of my peers on the council who have some different opinion,” Carroll said.

Follow Nick Reimann on Twitter, @nicksreimann.