New Orleans Saints

Saints call Navy vet’s decision to decline award due to anthem protest “unfortunate, disappointing”

(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

John Wells, a retired U.S. Navy commander, turned down an offer from the New Orleans Saints to be honored prior to last Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, saying he couldn’t “in good conscience” enter an NFL stadium due to the ongoing national anthem protests.

“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 in a release statement. “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, who is the executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, was slated to receive the ‘Peoples Health Champion Award,’ an honor awarded at Saints home games to recognize “the exceptional achievements of Louisiana residents age 65 and older.”

Wells described the national anthem protests as “a slap in the face” to military veterans.

“Men and women have fought and died for the flag that the players are disrespecting,” Wells wrote.

The Saints called Well’s decision “unfortunate and disappointing” in a statement released Thursday.

“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,” the Saints said in a statement.

“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.”

“We will not allow Mr. [John] 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 in their statement, which stressed the organization’s “unwavering 50-plus year commitment to honor, support and recognize our servicemen and women and veterans.”

In the statement, the Saints also emphasized their players have stood for the anthem in every game since the franchise’s inception in 1967, with the exception of “the Week Three game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit.”

Since then, Saints players have chosen to kneel before the anthem in a display of unity, then stand during the anthem. Still, many fans have booed the kneeling players inside the Superdome even though the booing has not taken place during the anthem.

Despite the fact the team kneels before the anthem, and not during it, fans have continuously booed the team for their actions, something Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro addressed on his Twitter account.

Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan tweeted about how fans have “ignored” the reason behind the player protests.

The Saints went on to list the community appearances and financial commitments the team has made to military and related organizations, and to stress that owner Tom Benson — a former Naval officer — has been honored and recognized as a longtime supporter of the military. They said they would use the time at Sunday’s game that had been allotted for Wells’ 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.”

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