Veterans groups slam NFL players who kneel during anthem

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Two of the largest veterans organizations in the country are slamming National Football League (NFL) players who kneel during the national anthem.

Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, said in a statement that professional athletes and others who do not respect the national anthem are “misguided and ungrateful.”

“Having a right to do something does not make it the right thing to do,” Rohan said. “There are many ways to protest, but the national anthem should be our moment to stand together as one UNITED States of America.”

Trump stoked controversy on Friday when, at a Senate campaign rally in Alabama, he said a football player who kneels during the anthem is a “son of bitch” who should be fired.

Kneeling during the anthem began last year with Colin Kaepernick as a protest of police brutality and racial inequality. Kaepernick became a free agent earlier this year and has not been signed by a team.

Trump doubled down in tweets throughout the weekend, and several players and owners came to the defense of the protesters, saying they have a right to do so under the First Amendment.

Asked Sunday what he thinks of the issue as someone who served in the military, Defense Secretary James Mattis brushed off the question.

“I’m the secretary of Defense. We defend the country,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to India, according to a Pentagon transcript released Monday.

On Sunday, a couple hundred football players sat or kneeled during the anthem in solidarity. Several teams also stayed inside the locker room during the anthem, including most members of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran, came outside to stand during the anthem.

On Monday, Rohan commended Villanueva.

“We salute Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who stood alone respecting the flag as his teammates stayed in their locker room,” she said.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) likewise saluted Villanueva for “showing the rest of his team and the league what true mettle is.”

“I stand for our flag and anthem, and I kneel for our fallen,” VFW national commander Keith Harman said in a statement. “That’s what patriots do. We rally around the flag of our country, not use it and our Constitution as both shield and sword.”

In his statement, Harman, a Vietnam veteran, said that his oath to protect the Constitution means he has a right to disagree with how others choose to protest.

“There is a time and place for civil debate, and wearing team jerseys,” he said, “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.”

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