Navy vet turns down People’s Health award because of #takeaknee protests

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS – A retired US Navy veteran has turned down an award that was to be presented at the next New Orleans Saints game.

Cdr. John Wells was selected to receive a a Peoples Health Champion Award on November 5 before the Saints take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The award is handed out to people over 65 years of age who have achieved significant accomplishments after reaching “senior citizen” status.

As the director of the national organization Military Veterans Advocacy, Wells qualified for the award, but he decided he couldn’t accept it due to the recent “take a knee” protests that have swept across the NFL.

“Although I am touched and honored to be selected for such an award, the ongoing controversy with NFL players’ disrespect for the national flag forces me to decline to participate in the presentation,” Wells wrote to executives at Peoples Health and the New Orleans Saints organization, according to a press release. “I am unable, in good conscience, to enter an NFL stadium while this discourtesy prevails. Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it. To do so would be hypocritical.”

Wells said he “hoped and prayed” that the NFL would “outlaw” the protests, and was disappointed when officials failed to do so.

“Their failure to act is a slap in the face to all of those who have served in uniform,” he said. “Men and women have fought and died for the flag that the players are disrespecting.”

The New Orleans Saints responded Thursday afternoon. Here’s the team’s statement in full:

Respectfully and honorably, we chose Mr. Wells for the Peoples Health Champion Award purposefully for this game to bring to light the exact issues that he and his organization represent – the health and well being of our military, veterans and their families. 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. We respect his 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.

Throughout Mr. Wells’ media appearances today, he has stated he no longer supports NFL football. That 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. 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. 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. In lieu of honoring Mr. Wells, we will use the time allotted for the Peoples Health Champion Award to highlight non-political military advocacy programs and encourage our fans and community to join us in contributing to these groups who directly support our military and veterans.

Our players have chosen to stand for our National Anthem out of respect for the flag, our servicemen and women and veterans in every game since our inception in 1967 with the exception of one game – the Week Three game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit. We could not be more proud of the work our players do in the community and with our military, arguably a model program in the league. Our players have been clear and steadfast in their support for our military and veterans – not just with their words but with their actions – including visits with the military at home and abroad. Just two days ago, Saints players visited the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse in partnership with USAA’s Salute to Service Week. Their support for wounded veterans and their families and other meaningful engagement are normally conducted out of the public eye.

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, including the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes, the World War II Museum, Louisiana Heroes Project, Operation Homefront, the Louisiana National Guard, the U.S. Marines (Saints/Marines Bike and Toy Giveaway), the National Flight Academy and Bastion. We take enormous pride in our support of the military, the flag and our National Anthem. Mr. Benson, who served on the USS South Dakota in World War II, has personally donated to, and has been recognized by the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Navy where he was awarded the prestigious Lone Sailor Award, among other recognitions for his support of our military.

Our respect and support of our servicemen and women and veterans is unquestionable. During this weekend’s game we will again proudly recognize our servicemen and women and veterans and we do so with the full cooperation, appreciation and attendance of our military heroes.