- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2018

By rejecting the #PleaseStand ad, the NFL inadvertently handed American Veterans the kind of publicity that money can’t buy.

The hashtag trended for days on social media as Republican lawmakers, pundits and even the Rev. Franklin Graham blasted the NFL for refusing to run the one-page print ad in its Super Bowl LII program after the league deemed the message too political.

Ironically, it’s unlikely the #PleaseStand ad would have received anywhere near the same national attention if the NFL had accepted the submission at the outset.

“There’s no chance,” said John Hoellwarth, spokesman for American Veterans, or AMVETS. “I do not think for a second that [publicizing the ad] was their intent, I’ll tell you that, but that was undoubtedly the result of their decision.”

The issue received another jolt of publicity on Wednesday after South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a proclamation declaring game day “Stand for the Flag Super Bowl Sunday,” and encouraged residents to stand for the national anthem “wherever you watch the Super Bowl with your loved ones.”



Meanwhile, Rep. Todd Rokita asked Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay in a letter to use his influence with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to have the ad approved, while another Indiana Republican, Rep. Luke Messer, posted a petition online “demanding that the NFL run the ad.”

American Veterans submitted a powerful Super Bowl ad to the NFL asking Americans to stand for our National Anthem,” said Mr. Messer’s petition. “But the NFL caved to liberal pressure and is now REFUSING to run it.”

A similar petition by the conservative American Family Association, which accused the NFL of “blatant hypocrisy,” had gathered over 103,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

Mr. Goodell wound up defending the NFL’s decision to nix the ad after being asked about it by reporters, pointing out that the league supports veterans’ groups and causes in other ways.

“It’s not an indication of any lack of support,” Mr. Goodell told NBCSports. “We have a VFW ad that talks about, celebrates the important work that our veterans are doing, and of course you all know we’re going to have 15 medal of honor winners that we’re bringing together at the Super Bowl, which I think is the largest number of medal of honor winners ever brought together at any event other than their annual national gathering.”

He referred to a VFW ad accepted for the program that includes the tagline “We Stand for Veterans.” AMVETS refused to change its #PleaseStand message after being asked by the NFL to consider other options.

At this point, it’s probably too late for the NFL to change its mind. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday, and programs for the Super Bowl LII have already been sent to production.

Veterans release PSA

That said, there’s still a chance that another #PleaseStand ad could reach Super Bowl fans. AMVETS released Wednesday a 30-second public-service announcement available to air on Sunday if local television stations opt to do so.

Any NBC-TV affiliate is unlikely to air the PSA, given the cost of advertising time during the game, but that leaves a host of other television stations.

“We’re just making it available,” Mr. Hoellwarth said. “That would be the best placement any PSA has gotten in the history of PSAs. But it is possible that some local TV stations that are not carrying the Super Bowl might run it. That’s possible.”

The PSA shows people saying, “Please vote,” “Please volunteer,” “Please serve,” and “Please exercise your rights” before AMVETS national commander Marion Polk concludes, “Please stand.”

“Our message has always been patriotic and polite. It simply requests that people choose to stand during the National Anthem. It neither judges, vilifies or even opposes those who choose otherwise,” said AMVETS executive director Joe Chenelly in a statement. “We’re simply asking that people choose standing, and the NFL has made it harshly clear that it does not want veterans delivering this message anywhere near its biggest game. We think that’s wrongheaded.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league steers clear of ads that could be viewed as making a “political statement,” but Mr. Rokita argued that the NFL should show the same respect for the First Amendment rights of AMVETS as it did for players who refused to stand for the national anthem.

“In its rejection of the ad, the NFL said the Super Bowl is not the venue for ‘political’ expressions, but the league has consistently defended the rights of its players to free expression when kneeling in protest during the anthem,” said Mr. Rokita in his letter to Mr. Irsay.

AMVETS purchased the ad as part of a package that included advertising space in the NHL and NBA all-star programs. Both leagues accepted the #PleaseStand ad without comment, and AMVETS has since received additional space in the NASCAR guide as compensation for the rejected NFL ad, said Mr. Hoellwarth.

Of course, no other professional sports franchise has been rocked by the take-a-knee protests, which began last season in reaction to the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

The NFL has watched its ratings decline amid fan outrage over the refusal by some players to stand for the national anthem, a protest that peaked in late September after Mr. Trump suggested that team owners fire players who refuse to stand.

Mr. Trump gave a shout-out to the national anthem in his Wednesday night State of the Union address, but did not mention the protests.

About 20 players continued to sit or kneel in the final month of the 2017 season, but none of them play for the New England Patriots or Philadelphia Eagles, the two teams vying for the national championship in Super Bowl LII.

In other words, the entire controversy might have disappeared from public view during the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, but for the flap over the #PleaseStand ad.

“If all things had worked out as intended, the ad would have probably quietly run in the program,” said Mr. Hoellwarth. “It may not have ever left the stadium.”

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