UPDATED: Retired Military Vet Snubs Award To Be Given At Saints Game, Cites Kneeling As “Disgraceful”

This was inevitable, was it not? How many object lessons do the thick-headed players in the NFL need before they recognize what a public-relations cataclysm the idiocy of kneeling during the national anthem before games has been?

A press release this morning…

Cdr. John Wells (USN, Ret.) yesterday declined to accept a Peoples Health Champion Award that was to have been presented during this Sunday’s New Orleans Saints game in the Superdome.

Peoples Health Champions are citizens over 65 who have significant accomplishments after reaching “senior citizen” status.  Wells is the longtime executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, a national organization based in Slidell, Louisiana, that works in the interests of veterans and active duty military personnel.

“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,” Wells wrote to executives at Peoples Health and the New Orleans Saints organization.  “I am unable, in good conscience, to enter an NFL stadium while this discourtesy prevails.

“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.  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. Their failure to act is a slap in the face to all of those who have served in uniform. Men and women have fought and died for the flag that the players are disrespecting.”

Wells has testified before Congress for veteran’s benefits and has litigated benefits issues in various federal courts.  He recently was awarded the Distinguished Military Honor Award by the military scholarship foundation “Folds of Honor.” The award is presented each year in honor of Gulf War veteran Staff Sgt. William Austin Daniel.  “I think accepting an award that involves the NFL would dishonor this award and those who have fought and died for this country,” Wells said.

Was it necessary for Wells to decline the award? Probably not. If you want to say it’s a publicity stunt, as LSU alum and San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid said of Vice President Mike Pence’s walking out of a game in Indianapolis because of Reid’s (and his teammates’) kneeling, you can. Except the kneeling is a publicity stunt designed – poorly – to protest police brutality and various other horrors visited upon black people in America, according to those who are doing it.

Well, you don’t get to be the only ones with the publicity stunts, boys. Other people can play that game, too. And since the audiences are shrinking in response to your publicity stunts, don’t be surprised if the opposite bandwagon starts to fill up.

So Pence walks out, and now Wells does his snub, and then there’s Papajohn’s Pizza whose founder and CEO John Schnatter just absolutely trashed the league management for not nipping the kneeling in the bud a year and a half ago, and who has more or less openly repudiated his company’s sponsorship of the league as a drain on its finances. Meanwhile the league’s owners are scrambling to put out the PR fire the kneeling has started, which in some cases has only made things worse (for example, the mess Houston Texans owner Bob McNair found himself in last week).

None of this is sustainable. It is a slow-motion disaster. The players are killing the league and hatred and disrespect of the NFL is becoming a form of virtue-signaling on the right.

Either the kneeling stops or there won’t be an NFL left. But be assured there will be pro football. It’s only a matter of time before a bunch of billionaires who don’t own NFL teams will get together and start a new league to fill the hole in the market the NFL’s players have created.

BONUS: We also have this…

UPDATE: And here is the statement the Saints organization put out in response to Wells’ declaration, which gives evidence of hurt feelings…

Respectfully and honorably, we chose Mr. Wells for the Peoples Health Champion Award purposefully for this game to bring to light the exact issues that he and his organization represent – the health and well being of our military, veterans and their families. Unfortunately, he has chosen very publicly not to accept this honor and refused the opportunity to promote the very cause for which he was being honored and distract from awareness we hoped to build throughout our community. We respect his decision, he has that right, and we thank him for his service to our country and his past efforts on behalf of the military and veterans.

Throughout Mr. Wells’ media appearances today, he has stated he no longer supports NFL football. That is unfortunate and disappointing considering the New Orleans Saints’ unwavering 50-plus year commitment to honor, support and recognize our servicemen and women and veterans. 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. 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. In lieu of honoring Mr. Wells, we will use the time allotted for the Peoples Health Champion Award to highlight non-political military advocacy programs and encourage our fans and community to join us in contributing to these groups who directly support our military and veterans.

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. We could not be more proud of the work our players do in the community and with our military, arguably a model program in the league. Our players have been clear and steadfast in their support for our military and veterans – not just with their words but with their actions – including visits with the military at home and abroad. Just two days ago, Saints players visited the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse in partnership with USAA’s Salute to Service Week. Their support for wounded veterans and their families and other meaningful engagement are normally conducted out of the public eye.

If we are to be challenged about our dedication to the military, we then contend we are leaders when it comes to financial support as well as the thousands of service hours our organization and players gladly contribute to the military, including the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes, the World War II Museum, Louisiana Heroes Project, Operation Homefront, the Louisiana National Guard, the U.S. Marines (Saints/Marines Bike and Toy Giveaway), the National Flight Academy and Bastion. We take enormous pride in our support of the military, the flag and our National Anthem. Mr. Benson, who served on the USS South Dakota in World War II, has personally donated to, and has been recognized by the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Navy where he was awarded the prestigious Lone Sailor Award, among other recognitions for his support of our military.

Our respect and support of our servicemen and women and veterans is unquestionable. During this weekend’s game we will again proudly recognize our servicemen and women and veterans and we do so with the full cooperation, appreciation and attendance of our military heroes.

UPDATE: And here is Wells’ response to the Saints…

After promising to respect my wishes the Saints organization tonight issued a statement calling my motives into question. I am sincerely sorry that they chose to take the low road but they are certainly free to do so. I do applaud their decision to use the time originally slated for the award to promote veterans. Perhaps something positive can come from the dishonorable action of the NFL players. If the Saints need any ideas, they can feel free to call.

Of course the Saints are a multi-billion dollar corporation and I am just a disabled veteran trying to help other veterans. So if they choose to trash me I suppose I have little recourse. I am a little surprised that they called my decision divisive when actually it was an attempt to promote inclusion through unity and respect for our nation and its heroes, after the deplorable action of the NFL players..

But I am not and should not be the issue. Nor is this award. Today 90,000 Navy veterans were deprived of Agent Orange benefits because of a partisan action by Congressman Tim Walz, D-MN. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would have extended the presumption of exposure to these tens of thousands of sick and dying veterans. Unfortunately, Mr. Walz opposed the offset, required by law, to pay the $1.1 billion cost. Perhaps the Saints could show their willingness to help veterans by establishing a $1.1 billion fund to pay for these benefits. Certainly the Saints organizations and Mr. Tom Benson have that type of money. Regrettably, I do not.

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