The commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation’s largest and oldest combat veterans organization, on Monday spoke out against National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem at nationally broadcast football games.
“There is a time and place for civil debate, and wearing team jerseys and using sporting events to disrespect our country doesn’t wash with millions of military veterans who have and continue to wear real uniforms on real battlefields around the globe,” said Keith Harman, commander of VFW and a Vietnam combat veteran.
“My oath to protect the Constitution also protects my right to vehemently disagree with how others may choose to air their grievances,” said Harman in a statement.
He said those who disrespect what most Americans hold dear “have forgotten that America is still in a 16-year, multi-front war, against a shadow enemy whose end goal is the total destruction of us as a people and country,” in reference to the Afghanistan War.
Harman also saluted former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle, for coming out to salute the flag on Sunday, while the rest of the team stayed in the locker room during the national anthem.
Villanueva, a former Army captain who served three tours in Afghanistan, stood by the field entrance with his hand over his heart during the anthem.
Villanueva showed “the rest of his team and the league what true mettle is,” the statement said. Harman also saluted NASCAR team owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress “for leading from the front.”
“I stand for our flag and anthem,” Harman said. “And I kneel for our fallen. That’s what patriots do. We rally around the flag of our country, not use it and our Constitution as both shield and sword.”