The NFL has rejected an advertisement from a veterans’ advocacy group that encourages players to stand for the national anthem, saying that the Super Bowl is not intended to be a vehicle for promoting social or political causes, USA Today is reporting.
At every Super Bowl, the NFL produces an official program listing the players’ statistics and other important information the fans will need. The program also includes advertisements, and those advertisements are sold by a third party, but the NFL retains final approval for what goes into the ad.
AMVETS, a national veterans’ advocacy group, attempted to purchase a full-page ad in the program, at the cost of $30,000. The ad would have served two purposes. First, the ad would have made veterans aware of the programs and services offered by AMVETS and encouraged them to seek out the agency if they were interested. The other purpose derived from a hashtag and two words, #PleaseStand. The hashtag and accompanying text were intended to encourage players not to kneel for the national anthem, as some have been doing.
Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, says the ad was not intended as a direct statement towards the players who have been taking a knee during the anthem. Rather, he said, it was intended as part of a broader program of increasing awareness on how to respect, fold, store, and treat the American Flag.
“The protests are very much out of our purview,” he said. “We were not looking to comment on those. This is part of our Americanism program.”
The National Football League, however, saw the ad as a political statement. According to Navy Times, NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy says the ad is political and violates the spirit of the Super Bowl.
“[The program] is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl. It’s never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement.”
— Marion Polk (@AMVETSNatlCmdr) January 22, 2018
AMVETS National Commander Marion Polk calls the decision “corporate censorship.”
“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. 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.”
The organization further notes that it had paid for similar ads in publications for the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Games. The issue of players kneeling has not been much of a thing in the NHL, as so far, no players have been observed taking a knee during the national anthem. The NBA, according to SB Nation, actually forbids players from sitting or kneeling during the anthem.
This is not the first time that either the NFL or a network broadcasting the Super Bowl has drawn controversy for rejecting a political ad. As Fortune reported in 2017, Fox rejected an ad from a lumber supplier because the ad depicted a border wall. Similarly, as CBS News reported at the time, in 2014, the NFL rejected an ad from a firearms manufacturer.