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R.I. residents blast town council vote requesting ban on Nike purchases

A Nike advertisement featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was visible in New York earlier this month.ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Residents and members of the school committee in North Smithfield, R.I., railed against a resolution passed by the town council Monday night requesting a ban on the purchase of Nike products after the company ran an ad featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick.

During the tense meeting, the council voted 3-2 in favor of the proposal — which is nonbinding — asking the town’s school department and other departments to refrain from buying anything from Nike because its “values do not reflect our values and Nike should not financially benefit from our business.”

“Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick’s image and their slogan perpetuates the falsehood that police are racist and determined to use unnecessary force against African Americans and persons of color” the resolution read. “Hundreds of thousands of men and women in law enforcement deserve our respect and support.”


Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has become a lightning rod in the country after he began kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games in 2016 to protest police brutality and oppression of people of color. He has garnered both praise and criticism, especially after the movement spread throughout the league, leading to nationwide debates and angry rhetoric from President Trump. Kaepernick hasn’t played football since the end of the 2016 season. He became a free agent in March 2017.

Earlier this month, Nike unveiled a new multiyear deal making Kaepernick one of the faces of the company’s 30th anniversary ‘‘Just Do It’’ campaign. An ad published recently features a close-up of a Kaepernick’s face with the slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The North Smithfield resolution, which was sponsored by Town Council president John Beauregard, is nonbinding, meaning it is not an ordinance requiring concrete action.


It was unclear what — if any — Nike products the town’s departments use.

Beauregard did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But during Monday’s hearing, he said he supports the rights of football players to kneel during the national anthem — it’s the speech against police he disagrees with.

“Just because I don’t believe in his cause, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in his rights,” he said. “This is an individual who clearly has disdain for the police.”

Those who turned out against the proposal Monday night called the request foolish and lambasted council members for including it on the meeting agenda.

“We as a town have so many prominent issues to deal with,” Arthur Bassett, a member of the town’s school committee, said during the meeting. “Frankly, spending time on this tonight is just asinine.”

Bassett said in a follow-up e-mail that an item about the resolution is not on the school committee’s agenda Tuesday night, but the topic could come up for discussion during meetings next month if a member requests it.

Paul Jones, who is also a member of the school committee, urged the council at Monday’s packed hearing to vote against the resolution. He said it was an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction for the town and sent a bad message to its student body.

“Whatever your political inclinations, whatever your beliefs about the Nike controversy, we must not lose sight of the fact that we communicate much with our actions,” he said. “I believe a vote for this measure is — intended or not — going to send a message to our students that it is acceptable for government to punish speech it may not like or agree with.”


Jones told the Globe on Tuesday that if the resolution does come before the school committee, he “absolutely will vote no.”

Other residents who spoke during a public comment period at the hearing called the resolution a “detriment to the town,” “quite divisive,” and “racist at its very core.”

“It sends a really clear message to our town and beyond that North Smithfield values the image of law enforcement over the legacy of racial inequality that exists in our nation to this day,” one resident said. “I think this resolution is frankly a waste of time and resources.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island also spoke out against the resolution this week and said it violated Nike’s First Amendment rights.

“The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful,” the organization said in a statement. “By punishing the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting that protest, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality. Rhode Island is better than this.”

North Smithfield isn’t the first community to target Nike’s endorsement of Kaepernick. Mississippi’s public safety chief said recently that State Police would no longer buy Nike products because the company doesn’t support law enforcement, according to the Associated Press.


Meanwhile, last week, the mayor of a small town in Louisiana rescinded an order to ban local booster clubs from purchasing Nike apparel amid an uproar from constituents, the Washington Post reported.

Watch the videos from Monday night’s hearing:

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.