The New Orleans Saints are firing back at a retired Navy commander who declined to be honored at their game Sunday because of players protesting during the national anthem, calling his decision “unfortunate and disappointing.”
Retired Navy Cmdr. John Wells, executive director of the Louisiana-based Military Veterans Advocacy, was selected by the Saints to receive its Peoples Health Champion Award for highlighting the “health and well-being of our military, veterans and their families,” according to the team’s statement Thursday.
But Wells told the organization Wednesday not to expect him at the game, since he’s unable “in good conscience” to enter an NFL stadium where some players continue to “disrespect” the American flag by kneeling or sitting before or during the national anthem.
“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 said in a statement, according to the Times-Picayune. “Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it. To do so would be hypocritical.”
Wells, a disabled vet who served from 1972 through 1994, said he “hoped and prayed” that Roger Goodell would ban the “disgraceful protests,” but the NFL commissioner announced in October that league owners will not force players to stand for the national anthem even though they agree that they should.
The Saints, in a lengthy statement released late Thursday, said it was unfortunate that Wells chose to decline the award in such a public fashion.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
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