Pro Football Sacked at Barnegat American Legion Post

‘Taking a Stand’ Against NFL Players’ Disrespect
By ERIC ENGLUND | Oct 03, 2017

At the John Wesley Taylor American Legion Post 232 in Barnegat Township, pro football used to be a big deal on Sunday afternoons.

But on the fourth weekend of the NFL season, the Route 9 site was the scene of friendly bean bag toss and bucket pong games. People lined up to grab free hot dogs while DJ Mike Falco played a mix of pop and patriotic tunes. Every hour, Falco played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The activities were all part of what the post was unofficially promoting as a “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ NFL” party. And near the entrance to the building was a sign that said, “We Stand for the Anthem. No More Football Games Watched Here.”

Not until NFL players stop kneeling, and stand to respect the U.S. flag when the National Anthem is played prior to kickoff, explained post commander Gene O’Grady.

Taking a knee entered the national conversation the previous summer when during a pre-season game, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was being played. To him, it was a silent protest to show support for people of color who he said are being oppressed in the United States, and to take a stand against police brutality. He thought that using his voice and his position as an NFL player could effect change for people who were suffering yet did not have the same ability to ignite significant change.

Kaepernick’s stance certainly created its share of both praise and outrage. The quarterback’s contract expired after last season, the 49ers let him go, and he remains unemployed as no team has signed him.

Although players on other teams joined him in his protest stance last season, the issue exploded late last month when President Donald Trump, giving a speech for a state senate candidate in Alabama, remarked that NFL players who disrespect the U.S. flag and kneel for the National Anthem should be ejected from the stadium and cut from the team.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a b**** off the field right now - he’s fired!’” Trump said.

Following that, demonstrations spread throughout the league as many players broke out of their routine by joining the protests or engaging in team-wide displays of unity. The number of those who elected to either kneel or sit during the anthem was estimated at more than 200. The entire Pittsburgh Steelers team, except for one player who was a former U.S. Army Ranger, stayed in the locker room while the anthem was played.

Trump’s comments were denounced by players, NFL owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The topic was also fodder for talk shows, with some veterans criticizing the players and others commending them for exercising their constitutional right to protest.

“They have a right to protest,” said Jim Brown, Post 232 vice commander. “But we have a right to protest their actions. We ask that they respect the flag. I know of many people who died for that flag. The post’s leadership felt very strongly that we need to take a stand.”

National leaders of both the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars offered comments. “There is a time and place for civil debate, and wearing team jerseys and using sporting events to disrespect our country doesn’t wash with millions of military veterans who have and continue to wear real uniforms on real battlefields around the globe,” said Keith Harman, national commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“There are many ways to protest, but the National Anthem should be our moment to stand together as one United States of America,” stated Legion National Commander Denise Rohan.

O’Grady said the first step at Post 232 was to cancel the legion’s NFL Package subscription with Direct TV.

“We were able to get $245 reimbursed,” he said. “That money is going to be used for hurricane relief.”

He said that the post’s executive board met last week and formally agreed, “no football games are to be turned on.”

“Instead of football, people watched NASCAR, golf and baseball,” said O’Grady. “Throughout the afternoon, we had around 200 people stop by. I know we have a lot of football fans in the post, but nobody had any problems with what we were doing. I don’t think the people missed football all that much.”

O’Grady said he thinks other posts could follow suit.

“I went to a meeting of all the commanders from legion posts in Ocean County, and they all agreed that we need to take a stand,” he said.

“I think we understand that people have a right to protest what they feel is unjust,” added Post 232 past commander Tom Covello. “But when our National Anthem is played, people should stand and show respect for America and the flag.”

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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