Facing fierce criticism and legal challenges, Louisiana mayor walks back his ridiculous Nike ban

Monday’s protest drew hundreds from the city of about 67,000, including members of the New Orleans Saints. While just one member of the city’s seven-person city council spoke out against the ridiculous ban (yes, it was the black guy), politicians from across the state blasted Zahn for his terrible decision. A local church created a Change.org petition calling for the ban to be retracted; as of this writing it has over 1,500 signatures.

Nevertheless, Zahn remained unmoved.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, whose district includes the southern portion of Kenner, and who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, tore Zahn a new one on Tuesday, pointing out his skewed priorities.

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. […]

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.

Still, Zahn stood by his ban.

Then the ACLU entered the fray. 

On Wednesday, the ACLU and the ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter to Mayor Zahn informing him that his actions violate the First Amendment and advising him to rescind his policy immediately. We have taken this action because Zahn’s policy violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on content and viewpoint discrimination. It prevents booster clubs from purchasing Nike’s products based solely on the mayor’s opposition to Nike’s political expression.

How do we know this? Because Zahn said so himself.

Additional protests were scheduled for Sunday in cities like Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and even Houston. 

At the rescinding press conference, Zahn was reluctant to own up to his fuck-up, instead choosing to paint a picture where everyone understood his supposedly pure intentions. 

When he was asked Wednesday whether he consulted his city attorney before he issued the ban, Zahn said: “There was consulting, but the city attorney at that point was understanding the motivation, what I was trying to do, and the Legal Department has stood behind that. But of course now we are seeing where this is going and we wanted to stop.”

Whether “where this is going” meant the outside legal advice prevailed, or that Zahn merely regretted the divisive effect of his order, he did not say.

As we all know, impact always trumps intent. And clearly Zahn wasn’t ready for this kind of impact. 

Meanwhile, Nike continues to be an outrageously successful athletic apparel and footwear company, impervious to all boycotts, whether inspired by its endorsement of Colin Kaepernick, its unfettered culture of sexism, or its use of sweatshop labor. 

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