A veteran in Louisiana who was invited to accept an award on the field before Sunday's Saints game has turned the offer down because of protests from players on the team.
Retired Cmdr. John Wells, who now runs a non-profit called Military Veterans Advocacy, was named a People's Health Champion for “significant accomplishments” after reaching "senior citizen status." The reward was to be presented to Wells, who served in the Navy from 1972 to 1999, at the Superdome.
But in a letter to the team this week, he wrote that he was unable "in good conscience, to enter an NFL stadium" while some players "disrespect" the American flag by kneeling during the national anthem. He was hopeful that NFL would force the players to stand during the anthem and saw the league's unwillingness to enact such a mandate so as a "slap in the face to all of those who have served in uniform."
He added: "Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it. To do so would be hypocritical."
The Saints were not fond of this response from Wells. In a statement of it own, the team defended its record of respect for the flag and the military. It also subtly sniped at Wells for being "divisive" and courting media attention while ignoring the team's history of honoring members of the military.
“We will not allow Mr. Wells’ decision and subsequent media appearances to distract our players and organization from continuing to honor and support our military and veterans," the team's statement said. "We, as an organization, have decided to move on from this sad and divisive discourse and focus our attention on supporting our military and veterans."
It's worth noting that the players who kneel during the national anthem have said time and time again that their protest has nothing to do with the military. Rather, it is a demonstration against racial injustice, police brutality and pervasive inequality in the U.S. Conducting the protest during the anthem was a strategic choice to draw attention to their concerns.
Say what you will, the tactic has obviously worked.