- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2017

The NFL announced Saturday there has been “no change” in its national-anthem policy despite a Veterans Day campaign to boycott Sunday’s games over the take-a-knee protests.

Boycott the NFL, a Facebook page with more than 227,000 followers, has called on supporters to tune out Sunday’s games “in solidarity with veterans around the country,” while the conservative watchdog group 2ndVote asked fans to “stiff-arm the NFL.”

“We’re sending the National Football League, its corporate sponsors, and the television networks a message this Veterans Day weekend!” said 2ndVote. “Americans are sick of the disrespectful National Anthem protests that the NFL has not only allowed to continue, but has institutionalized in pregame ceremonies.”

About 22,000 people have indicated on Facebook that they plan to turn off the television for games.

2ndVote, which monitors corporate political activity, also launched the hashtag #STANDwithVets.

“Remember, several of the companies that do business with the NFL like DirecTV and Anheuser-Busch have signaled just how bad of a PR disaster the protests have been,” said 2ndVote. “Join us this weekend and we’ll hit the NFL and all of its sponsors where it counts!”

It’s possible that players who have refused to stand for the national anthem so far this season will make an exception for Veterans Day.

The half-dozen Seattle Seahawks players who have sat during the national anthem stood up for the flag at Thursday night’s game in what defensive end Michael Bennett later called a show of support for the military in honor of Veterans Day.

The NFL Players Association said players plan to observe a two-minute moment of silence for veterans at Sunday’s games, while various teams have planned other Veterans Day activities, including bringing military, vets and families onto the field for pregame ceremonies.

At the same time, the NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement Saturday saying that “there has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem,” which says players “should” stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” but doesn’t require them to do so.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said they plan to discuss “important social issues” at next week’s league meeting.

“The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized,” said the statement. “Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.”

About two dozen players, most of them with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, have regularly opted to sit or kneel during the national anthem this season, with the biggest protest coming Sept. 24, after President Trump suggested firing those who refuse to stand.

The NFL has seen its television viewership decline this season, with telecasts down 5 percent during the first half of the season compared with last season, according to Nielsen data obtained by the Sporting News.

Broadcasts for the first eight games averaged 14.7 million viewers, down from 15.5 million viewers in 2016 and 18.7 percent from 2015.

The take-a-knee demonstrations were led in 2016 by then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a show of protest against the deaths of black men at the hands of police, following several high-profile police shootings and protests by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Critics have called it a false narrative, pointing to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report and Washington Post tally of police shootings, which show that shootings of black people by police are down while black-on-black homicides have skyrocketed.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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