Veteran refuses to receive ‘tainted’ award from New Orleans Saints over national anthem protests

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GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 22: The New Orleans Saints kneel before the playing of the national anthem before the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 22, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS — A retired Navy veteran has declined to accept an award at a New Orleans Saints game over players kneeling during the national anthem, according to The Times-Picayune.

The Saints had planned to honor retired Navy Cmdr. John Wells, who is the executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, with the Peoples Health Champion award during Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But Wells declined to accept the award on Wednesday, saying he was unable “in good conscious, to enter an NFL stadium” when players continue to kneel 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. “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, who is also disabled, served from 1972 to 1994.

The Saints released a statement Thursday, saying they were disappointed by Wells’ decision.

“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 recent weeks, players have refused to stand during the anthem to protest racial inequality. The protests started after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling to protest police mistreatment of African Americans.