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This veteran walked out when a player kneeled for the anthem. Now he's being punished.

A U.S. military veteran and high school sports referee was suspended for leaving a volleyball match after a player kneeled during the national anthem. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Jim Saddler is a 67-year-old Air Force veteran who served as a presidential flight attendant on Air Force One for Ronald Reagan. He now works as an usher at Indiana Pacers games, and also as a referee for high school volleyball, softball and basketball.

On Oct. 9, he was set to referee a North Central High School match. During the national anthem, he saw some fans in the bleachers sitting. It angered him, but he brushed it off.

But when he saw a North Central player take a knee during the anthem, he'd had enough. He turned his referee flag in at the scorer's table, told the coach he was leaving, and handed $20 to an assistant athletic director to cover his salary for the match on his way out the door.

Now, he's been suspended by the Indiana High School Athletic Association -- for more than a full year.

'I feel bad about it'

Saddler is still angry about the anthem protest, and that's not going to change. But, he said he regrets that he let his anger get in the way of doing a job he said he'd do.

"In the Air Force, you have a duty, and you do it,” Saddler told IndyStar on Thursday. “The same with sporting events. I guess I went AWOL. I feel bad about it.

“What they did just upset me so badly that I just could not stay there,” Saddler said. "(But) I know it’s her constitutional right to do what she wants to do. And it wasn’t fair to the other girls who were standing and respecting the flag. After I thought about it, you know, sometimes it takes you a little time to sit down and think about stuff and what you did. And after I thought about it, I would never ever do that again. I would never break a contract.”

'A privilege and not a right'

After finding out about his severe suspension, Saddler tried to apologize to the IHSAA for walking out, and to see if his punishment could be reduced, but to no avail.

The IHSAA commissioner, Bobby Cox, said there was no chance of Saddler's suspension being reduced. According to IHSAA bylaws, Cox said, officiating games is a privilege and not a right.

"I don't think the IHSAA (cared) about what I said or what I did or that I said I wouldn't do it again," Saddler said. “Here I am a retired veteran, you have to see my point of view of what I did. Right?"

The North Central athletic director, Paul Loggan, said Saddler is a professional who has had no previous issues.

“He’s a very well-respected official and man,” Loggan said. “He’s been a volleyball official here and a softball official here, and we’ve never had any issues with him.”

More protest problems

The IHSAA has been dealing with other anthem protest-related controversy this week. Last Saturday, two referees threatened to disqualify volleyball players who didn't respect the anthem. The IHSAA determined that was outside of the referees' jurisdiction.

(H/T USA Today and IndyStar)

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