WASHINGTON — AMVETS officials are decrying “corporate censorship” from the National Football League for their decision not to run an ad in their Super Bowl program which responds to league players’ decision to kneel for the national anthem in protest of national equality issues.
The ad, which would have cost the veterans organization $30,000, features the tag “#PleaseStand” with a picture of service members saluting the American flag and information on how to donate to the congressionally-chartered organization.
Group leaders said NFL officials refused to include the ad in their Super Bowl publication, but did not issue a reason why. In a statement, AMVETS National Commander Marion Polk said the issue is one of fairness and respect.
“Freedom of speech works both ways,” he said. “We respect the rights of those who choose to protest, as these rights are precisely what our members have fought — and in many cases died — for.
“But imposing corporate censorship to deny that same right to those veterans who have secured it for us all is reprehensible and totally beyond the pale.”
In a statement, NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy said the Super Bowl game program “is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl. It’s never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement.”
They noted that the program will include a similar ad from the Veterans of Foreign Wars that states simply “We Stand for Veterans.” McCarthy said AMVETS was asked to consider changing their ad to read “Please Stand for Our Veterans” but did not reply in time for production deadlines.
Numerous veterans groups have criticized the flag protests before football games as “disrespectful” to current and former military members, although players involved in the actions have repeatedly said they are not related to service members in any way.
The anthem protests began in 2016 when then San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted to sit during the anthem singing as a protest against racial inequality and police brutality.
At the suggestion of former Staff Sgt. Nate Boyer, who played football in college, Kaepernick opted to change his protest to kneeling during the anthem, echoing troops “taking a knee” during a mission.
But the change did little to quell the controversy. In September, President Donald Trump publicly blasted players who followed Kaepernick’s lead, calling any player involved a “son of a bitch” and suggesting that teams fire them for the actions.
The visibility of the protests have ebbed in recent months, after NFL executives met with player representatives to discuss ways the league can better support activism among employees.
AMVETS officials said the same #PleaseStand ad was accepted by the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball for inclusion in their all-star games’ programs. The organization sees the advertisement as an extension of their role as a “nonpartisan advocate for veterans and their families.”
The Super Bowl, set for Feb. 4, will feature the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.