Angered by NFL Anthem Protests, Veterans Groups Meet with Goodell Ahead of Veterans Day Weekend

On a weekend where we stand in recognition of those who have served, organizations which represent those who have stood served aren’t taking the NFL’s disrespect for the national anthem, lying down.

Though, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion aren’t calling for an outright boycott of the NFL over the weekend.

According to Michael McCarthy of the Sporting News, instead, those organizations are, “leaving it up to their members to make the decision on their own.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with veterans groups on October 30th in Washington, DC, to reaffirm the league’s commitment to America’s veterans.

According to the Sporting News, “In no uncertain terms, the Legion and VFW told Goodell they disagree with NFL players not standing during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and presentation of the American flag, but the veterans groups also said they respect players’ First Amendment rights. At least from the standpoint of the Legion and VFW, there won’t be any organized boycott of the NFL around Veterans Day, the federal holiday designated for Nov. 11 (this year it will be observed on Friday).”

It’s unclear whether the Legion of VFW would have staged any organized protest against the NFL this weekend if Goodell had not met with them. However, by meeting with them and, apparently, alleviating their concerns. Goodell might have saved the league the embarrassment of a massive demonstration in the stands, while the league paid tribute to the anthem and flag on the field.

Though, it doesn’t sound like all issues were addressed or satisfied completely.

According to the Sporting News, “During the meeting with the Legion that included Goodell, 49ers chief executive officer Jed York and Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, the NFL asked executive director Verna Jones and spokesman Chanin Nuntavong how the veterans group felt about the player protests. The American Legion reminded Goodell its group has stood for respecting the flag/anthem since its founding in 1919.

“Goodell said he understood, but he also told Jones and Nuntavong he would not force his protesting players to stand. It doesn’t sound like either group came away completely satisfied. Still, the Legion has not  — and will not — ask members to boycott the NFL, according to Nuntavong.”

The operative point in Goodell’s response there, might center around use of the word “I.” On Thursday night, the Seahawks Michael Bennett, one of the loudest and proudest of the anthem protesters, stood for the anthem. In fact, the Seahawks, a team which has averaged about eight protesters per game all season, stood for the anthem as a team.

So, perhaps Goodell didn’t tell his protesting players to stand. But clearly, someone ordered the “Code Red.”

VFW Spokesman Joe Davis summed up Goodell’s message to his organization in e-mail to the Sporting News.

Davis wrote:

“The commissioner wanted to assure the VFW that the League remains 100 percent committed to supporting veterans, service members and their families. He said the players who initially knelt — and the very few who continue — do so to draw attention to deep-dividing social issues. Mr. Harman made it crystal clear that no VFW member will ever disagree with First  Amendment rights, but that the use of the flag as a prop just doesn’t sit well with those who have worn the uniform. It’s a conversation that continues.”

NFL Spokesman Brian McCarthy summarized Commissioner Goodell’s position on the anthem to the Sporting News, this way: “He looks at the national anthem as a patriotic and important part of an NFL game, a longstanding tradition. He wants everyone to stand, from players to coaches to fans in the stands. At the same time, Goodell “respects the right of players as Americans to observe in that fashion.”

When asked if Goodell had any plans to make a rule requiring players to stand, McCarthy said: “No. That hasn’t been part of this.”

Why the VFW and American Legion opted to not try protest, or at least use the threat of a protest to force Goodell to reign-in his players, remains unknown. However, it could have a lot to do with the fact that the NFL has raised over $17 million for veterans charities over the last six years, through the league’s “Salute to Service” campaign.

It could also be that, while they knew Goodell wouldn’t officially order his players not to protest. The VFW and Legion could have had it on good authority that, unofficially, Goodell had done precisely that. Which may be why Michael Bennett and others chose to stand on Thursday night.

If other protesting players follow Bennett’s lead this weekend, we’ll have the answer.

 


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