A petition launched by a historic church in Kenner, Louisiana, seeking to end that city's ban on the use of tax dollars to purchase Nike products by local recreational facilities, is amassing support online as residents and New Orleans Saints players joined in public protests.
"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," a statement from Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn said Monday about his controversial policy that was made public last weekend.
"My internal memo draws the line on letting companies profit from taxpayers by espousing political beliefs. My decision disallowing Nike from profiting from our taxpayers while they are using their powerful voice as a political tool is my message. This government will not let taxpayer dollars be used to promote a company's or individual's political position, platform or principle. That's my position as a matter of fairness to all," he added.
In a Sept. 5 memo to Kenner's Recreation Director Chad Pitfield, Zahn demanded that the city recreation department and any booster clubs operating at its facilities no longer purchase or accept delivery of Nike athletic products or any apparel that features the company's logo, The Times-Picayune reported.
Thomas United Methodist Church, which has been in Kenner for 135 years, has responded to the ban with a petition calling on Zahn to end the controversial policy. The petition had amassed more than 1,000 of the 1,500 signatures they were seeking as of Wednesday morning.
"We have seen firsthand, a young black man wrongfully and brutally killed at the hands of Kenner police right in front of our faith community just last year. We are deeply saddened to learn of your efforts to use government to boycott Nike for supporting Colin Kaepernick for raising awareness around police brutality, racial inequality and social injustice. Your position negates the hurt and pain experienced from the life that has been lost at the hands of police officers right here in our community," the church said in its petition.
"We stand with Nike, Colin Kaepernick and any organization who strives to 'do justice, love mercy and walk humbly' with God's people and reject your plans to force personal beliefs on public institutions that exist to serve all of its citizens regardless of their race, economic status or their political beliefs. We implore you to reverse your policy to ban Nike from the Department of Recreation and all public entities. Show the world that the city of Kenner believes in love, not hate," church officials added.
Saints players Cam Jordan, Craig Robertson, Terron Armstead and Chris Banjo joined a "Unity in Community" rally at Susan Park Playground Monday afternoon, which was organized as a "peaceful protest" of Zahn's Nike ban.
Backlash against Nike began growing last week after the company decided to make Colin Kaepernick one of the faces of its 30th anniversary "Just Do It" campaign.
Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, began kneeling during the performance of the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and the treatment of minorities.