The New Orleans Saints say it is “unfortunate and disappointing” that a military veteran declined an honor at the team’s game this Sunday.
Retired Navy Cmdr. John Wells has refused to accept an award over the National Football League’s (NFL) ongoing national anthem protests.
“We will not allow Mr. [John] Wells’ decision and subsequent media appearances to distract our players and organization from continuing to honor and support our military and veterans,” the Saints said in a statement Thursday, according to ESPN.
“[Our organization has an] unwavering 50-plus year commitment to honor, support and recognize our servicemen and women and veterans,” the statement added.
The Saints also noted that their players have stood for the anthem in every game since the franchise’s creation in 1967 save for one contest.
“[The exception is] the Week Three Game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit,” they said of the team’s Sept. 24 matchup with the Carolina Panthers.
Wells was chosen for the People’s Health Champion Award, which is given to people who have “significant accomplishments” and have reached “senior citizen status.”
The former Navy officer declined the honor, however, due to the recurring demonstrations by NFL employees during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I am unable, in good conscience, to enter a NFL stadium while this discourtesy prevails,” he wrote to executives of Peoples Health and the Saints.
“I had hoped and prayed that the NFL would outlaw these disgraceful protests and wanted to give the commissioner and the owners a fair opportunity to do so,” Wells added.
“Their failure to act is a slap in the face to all those who served in uniform. Men and women have fought and died for the flag that players are disrespecting.”
Scores of NFL employees have knelt during the national anthem since President Trump criticized the move in September.
Trump called on the NFL to fire employees who perform the gesture, and he has since repeatedly argued it is unpatriotic.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in 2016 to protest America’s racial injustice.
The act has since divided NFL fans into those who find it disrespectful to the U.S. and others who believe it is a valid act of free speech.
We asked veterans how they really feel about the NFL anthem protests.