Retired Commander John Wells, the executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, refused an award from the New Orleans Saints during last week's game, citing the players who protested during the national anthem, according to the Advocate.
Wells was set to receive the People's Health Champion award during the Saints-Bears game, but did not show up writing: "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," in his press release.
He continued, "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.”
The People's Health Champion program recognizes Louisiana residents aged 65 and up who have made "exceptional achievements" in their lives, according to the organization's website. Wells is a disabled veteran who served in the U.S. Navy for 22 years between 1972 and 1994 before later becoming an attorney with a specialty in military and veterans law.
The controversy over the national anthem has added to the long list of topics and issues that continue to divide Americans in this polarizing time and has even drawn the ire of the President who has publicly denounced the player's decision to kneel during the anthem.
Wells said the anthem protest was a "slap in the face" to anyone who has served. During the NFL's week three games, several Saints players had been viewed sitting during the National Anthem before their road game against the Carolina Panthers.
The Saints responded to Wells and his decision to refuse the award, in a press statement that was released last night:
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.
In terms of the protest itself, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said there were no plans to change the league's policy and that while players 'should' stand for the anthem, but will not enforce a policy to make them stand.
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