Local Nike bans prompt ACLU warning to towns across America: “They would be wise to reconsider”


The American Civil Liberties Union has a warning for government officials seeking to ban local Nike purchases because of the company’s affiliation with Colin Kaepernick:

Just don’t do it.

“If [officials] think they can use the power of public office to dictate their opinions onto others, they would be wise to reconsider,” Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in recent email.

In the weeks since the ex-NFL-quarterback unveiled an endorsement deal with Nike on Sept. 3, anti-Kaepernick lawmakers and administrators across the United States have sought to discourage locals from buying the company’s products — often by invoking government authority.

The North Smithfield, Rhode Island, town council on Monday passed a resolution by a 3-2 margin asking the town’s municipal departments and local school committee not to buy Nike apparel. The move caused a national uproar, prompting the council to vow to rescind the decision two days later.

“I still feel as strongly about the subject today as I did [on] Monday,” council president John Beauregard wrote in a Wednesday evening press release. “I am only doing this because of the backlash to my town, the businesses in my town, the schools and all the residents.”

In an interview Thursday, Rhode Island ACLU executive director Steven Brown said that his division had sent the North Smithfield town council a letter expressing their concern about the anti-Nike resolution.

“If a town can decide to ban the purchase of products of a company because of it’s political views on Colin Kaepernick, it can decide to ban a product from any company that’s run by a Democrat or a Republican,” Brown said, calling the resolution a violation of the First Amendment.

Mississippi Commissioner of Public Safety Marshall Fisher similarly announced Saturday that state police officials would not buy Nike products moving forward — a decision praised by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

The local ACLU pushed back.

Both governmental officials should be reminded that they represent all of Mississippi and are sworn to uphold the Constitution, which includes the freedom of speech and right to peaceful protest,” Jennifer Riley Collins, the Mississippi ACLU’s executive director and a retired U.S. army colonel, said in a written statement Tuesday, according to WAPT-TV.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

The recent flurry of local government backlash stems from Kaepernick’s criticism of police. In August 2016, while he was on the San Francisco 49ers roster, Kaepernick declined to stand during a pre-game national anthem performance, citing racism and police violence as reasons for his protest.

When news of Kap’s endorsement deal with Nike went public earlier in September, his detractors cried foul, with some vowing to boycott the retailer in retaliation and burning their already purchased Nike shoes in disgust.

But the former quarterback’s allies have taken action as well. Some Kaepernick supporters in Kenner, Louisiana, are calling for the resignation of Mayor Bill Zahn, after he tried to ban the city’s recreation departments and booster clubs from purchasing Nike gear.

Zahn withdrew his request on Sept. 12, one week after the mayor’s Sept. 5 memo delivering the order was published online. The local ACLU sent Zahn’s office a letter on Sept. 12 telling him the proposed ban was unconstitutional.

“That memorandum divided our city and placed Kenner in a false unflattering light on the national stage,” Zahn told reporters at a press conference Sept. 12. “We are seeing where this is going and we want it to stop.”

So far, Zahn’s about-face has proven insufficient for Kenner residents, 52.9% of whom are non white.

Rev. Kaseem Short, senior pastor of Thomas United Methodist Church in Kenner, said he’s not ready to demand the mayor’s resignation yet, but he and other members of the local faith community are attending a Kenner City Council meeting Thursday night, where they plan to request a meeting with Zahn in the near future.

“If we don’t get a meeting or our concerns are not addressed, then further action needs to be taken,” Short said.

Meanwhile, Nike’s record high stock prices continued trending upward on Thursday as industry analysts remained bullish on the company’s Kaepernick gamble.

“I thought Nike would have problems with the Kaepernick situation, [but] I was wrong,” Eric Aanes, president and founder of Titus Wealth Management told the Wall Street Journal. “Their edgy marketing appeared to pay off for them.”