Retired Navy Vet Declines Saints Award, Over Anthem Protests

By Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.
November 3, 2017 Updated: November 3, 2017

The controversy surrounding the NFL’s national anthem protests have prompted a Navy veteran to refuse accepting an award at a New Orleans Saints game.

Retired Navy Cmdr. John Wells, a disabled veteran and executive director of a veterans advocacy group, was meant to receive the Peoples Health Champion award during last week’s game against the Chicago Bears, the Washington Post reported.

According to the company’s website, the award honors “the exceptional achievements of Louisiana residents age 65 and older.” Normally each recipient is honored on the field at the Superdome during Saints games.

But Wells declined the opportunity, telling the team in a letter that: “Although I am touched and honored to be selected for such an award, the ongoing controversy with NFL players’ disrespect for the national flag forces me to decline to participate in the presentation.”

“Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it,” Wells continued. “To do so would be hypocritical.”

In response, the Saints issued a long statement on Thursday, Nov. 2, over the veteran’s refusal, calling his decision “sad and divisive.”

“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 Saints 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.”

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the controversy last year by first, sitting out from, then kneeling, during the national anthem, saying that he’s “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.”

Many critics have argued that protesting during the anthem is disrespectful to the country, to it’s first responders, and especially to members of the military. Many have also said that it was neither venue, nor the time, to protest, as football has until recent years been a place where the public can put aside their political views.

In their statement, the Saints also noted that their players have only protested once during the week three game at Carolina.

“Our players have chosen to stand for our National Anthem out of respect for the flag, our servicemen and women and veterans in every game since our inception in 1967 with the exception of one game – the Week Three game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit,” the team said.

But since then, Saints players have continued to anger fans, as they knelt together before the anthem, then stood during pregame renditions.

Last month the Saints raised even sharper criticism when they decided to kneel during a moment of silence for a slain New Orleans police officer.

At previous meetings, NFL owners still could not agree to a definitive change in the league’s policy regarding anthem conduct.

“I think most of us believe that attempting to force the players to do something that they don’t want to do is not going to be effective in the long run,” New York Giants co-owner John Mara said, Washington Post reported.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in October sent a letter to the owners of all 32 football teams writing that “everyone should stand for the national anthem,” but Goodell did not say he was going to enforce it.


Bowen Xiao
Bowen Xiao is a New York-based reporter at The Epoch Times. He covers national security, human trafficking and U.S. politics.