Minneapolis — The NFL has denied advertising space in the Super Bowl program for a veterans group that declined to alter language about standing for the national anthem.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed Tuesday that American Veterans, or AMVETS, submitted an advertisement last week to the third-party publisher of the game program with the message, “Please Stand.”
McCarthy said the league, which has editorial control over the content, asked AMVETS to consider other options for the message, such as “Please Honor our Veterans” or “Please Stand for our Veterans.” The two organizations were unable to agree on language in time to meet production deadlines. McCarthy said a separate ad from the Veterans of Foreign Wars group with the words “We Stand for Veterans” was approved.
Some NFL players have taken to kneeling during the national anthem over the last two seasons to raise awareness of social and racial injustice, issues that created division within the league. The NFL announced Tuesday that an owner-player committee was being created to try to address them.
Commissioner Roger Goodell was sent a letter dated Monday from AMVETS national commander Marion Polk to express the Lanham, Maryland-based organization’s dismay with the league’s decision.
“Freedom of speech works both ways. We respect the rights of those who choose to protest, as these rights are precisely what our members have fought — and in many cases died — for,” Polk said in his letter to Goodell. “But imposing corporate censorship to deny that same right to those veterans who have secured it for us all is reprehensible and totally beyond the pale.”
AMVETS said the same ad was accepted by the NHL and NBA for use in official programs for their All-Star Games.
McCarthy said the NFL game program has “never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement. The NFL has long supported the military and veterans and will again salute our service members in the Super Bowl with memorable on-field moments that will be televised as part of the game.”
Social justice panel forms
The NFL has established a player-owner committee focusing on social and racial justice initiatives that commissioner Roger Goodell cautions is just a start, with lots of work ahead.
Goodell credited “unprecedented dialogue” for helping players and owners get to the point of Tuesday’s announcement. He said the committee will focus on education, economic development, community and police relations and the criminal justice system.
“We feel that we are going to make significant progress as we have more meetings, as we get more focused on our efforts, it’s going to actually come to life,” Goodell said. “And frankly, we will get better as the days go by.”
The league also said Tuesday it is beginning a “Let’s Listen Together” campaign that includes digital content and commercials highlighting player-led work on equality issues. That platform will include social media support and letters from players and owners.
Owners on the committee are Arizona’s Michael Bidwill, Atlanta’s Arthur Blank, Jacksonville’s Shahid Khan, Cleveland’s Jimmy Haslam and Miami’s Stephen Ross. Current players Josh McCown, Josh Norman, and Kelvin Beachum, Pro Football Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams and ex-player Anquan Boldin are on the committee.
Service award nominees
Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has spoken out on behalf of racial and social justice, and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt are among the five finalists for the NFL Players Association’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award.
The award annually recognizes players for exceptional community service in their team cities and hometowns. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, Eagles defensive end Chris Long and Broncos linebacker Von Miller are the other finalists.