John Wells, a disabled Navy veteran, turned down the Peoples Health Champion award which he was supposed to receive from the Saints during this past Sunday’s game
The New Orleans Saints football team said Friday it was ‘disappointed’ by a wounded veteran who declined an award which he said was ‘tainted’ because of NFL players’ kneeling during the national anthem.
John Wells, a disabled Navy veteran, turned down the Peoples Health Champion award which he was supposed to receive during halftime of this past Sunday’s game between the Saints and the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Wells is the executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, a Louisiana-based non-profit that promotes the well-being of former servicemen and women.
His decision to decline the honor was first reported by The New Orleans Advocate.
‘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.
‘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.’
The Peoples Health Champion program honors ‘exceptional achievements’ of Louisiana residents ages 65 and older.
The winners are usually honored with an award that is handed to them on the field at the Superdome during Saints games.
In the last year, NFL players have been kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner as an act of protest against police brutality and shootings of African-Americans.
The first player who demonstrably knelt during the anthem was former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
‘Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it,’ Wells said, referring to players’ protesting the national anthem by kneeling. Saints players are seen above kneeling before their game in London on October 1
The issue was thrust to front-page headlines in recent weeks after President Donald Trump called on the league to fire players who knelt during the anthem.
The president’s comments ignited a fierce public debate, with defiant players kneeling while owners and league executives scrambled to figure out how to contain the controversy.
There have even been calls for boycotts of NFL games and merchandise.
Some local businesses in the New Orleans area stopped selling Saints and NFL-branded apparel, while a local Mardi Gras disinvited two Saints players – Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro – from being grand marshals for the January parade.
Okafor and Vaccaro were two of the players who took part in the kneeling protests.
Wells agreed with Trump, saying that the protests were a ‘slap in the face’ to the military.
The Saints released a statement on their web site praising Wells for his service to the country, but lamenting the ‘unfortunate and disappointing’ decision to decline the award.
‘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,’ the Saints said.
‘In lieu of honoring Mr. Wells, we will use the time allotted for the Peoples Health Champion 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.’