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Navy vet declines award at New Orleans game over kneeling NFL players — and Saints fire right back

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The New Orleans Saints have fired back at a retired Navy commander who declined to receive an award at this Sunday's game at the Superdome due to the NFL player protests. The team criticized the Navy veteran's response and defended its commitment to the military. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

The New Orleans Saints fired back at a retired Navy commander who declined to receive an award at this Sunday's game at the Superdome due to the NFL player protests.

What did the Navy vet say?

  • John Wells said in a statement that while he's "touched and honored" by the award, he can't accept it because of "NFL players’ disrespect for the national flag."
  • The Peoples Health Champion Award is for those who've made significant accomplishments after reaching the age of 65. Wells is executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy in Slidell, Louisiana.
  • "I am unable, in good conscience, to enter an NFL stadium while this discourtesy prevails," he said, adding that the award is "tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players" and to accept it would be "hypocritical."
  • "I had hoped and prayed that the NFL would outlaw these disgraceful protests and wanted to give the Commissioner and the owners a fair opportunity to do so," Wells added. "Their failure to act is a slap in the face to all of those who have served in uniform. Men and women have fought and died for the flag that the players are disrespecting."
  • Wells didn't specifically call out the Saints or any other team in his statement, only the league in general.

How did the Saints respond?

  • The franchise issued a lengthy statement Thursday criticizing Wells' actions and defending its commitment to the military.
  • "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," the statement read. "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."
  • "Unfortunately, he has chosen very publicly not to accept this honor and refused the opportunity to promote the very cause for which he was being honored and distract from awareness we hoped to build throughout our community," the Saints noted.
  • The team said Wells' stance is "unfortunate and disappointing considering the New Orleans Saints' unwavering 50-plus year commitment to honor, support and recognize our servicemen and women and veterans."
  • "If we are to be challenged about our dedication to the military, we then contend we are leaders when it comes to financial support as well as the thousands of service hours our organization and players gladly contribute to the military ..." the Saints said.
  • "We respect [Wells'] decision, he has that right, and we thank him for his service to our country and his past efforts on behalf of the military and veterans," the statement added.

The statement also noted that Saints players have stood for the national anthem "in every game since our inception in 1967 with the exception of one game — the Week 3 game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit."

Since then Saints players have been kneeling before the anthem and then standing during the anthem, ESPN reported. The team drew fire a few weeks ago — and loud boos — when players stayed in their take-a-knee position during a moment of silence for a slain New Orleans police officer.

Did any Saints players react to the newest controversy?

After a series of tweets reacting to the Saints' statement, safety Kenny Dwayne Vaccaro jumped into the fray with some tweets of his own.

"Our crowd boos us before the anthem, therefore it's not about the flag, it's about the fact we are bringing awareness to a cause that makes people uncomfortable," he wrote Thursday evening.

Vaccaro added:

Image source: Twitter

Teammate Cameron Jordan also weighed in:

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