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Paul Klee: Rejected Super Bowl ad by military veterans shows NFL only wants to hear one side

By: Paul Klee
January 27, 2018 Updated: January 29, 2018 at 7:44 am
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DENVER — It's one week until Super Bowl LII. Know what’s tougher than stopping Tom Brady in a two-minute drill or scoring against Philadelphia’s hair-on-fire defense?

Holding a productive conversation that allows only one perspective.

That’s the problem that Tim Hutchinson has with the NFL’s egregiously hypocritical decision to reject a Super Bowl ad that asked players to stand for the national anthem. The advertisement was submitted for a spot in the game program by American Veterans (AMVETS), a non-profit that raises money to fund scholarships and helps military vets with issues like homelessness and unemployment.

The ad says, simply, “#PleaseStand.” The NFL said no thanks.

“I don’t see why they would reject the ad," said Hutchinson, a Navy vet who directs the AMVETS post in Broomfield, one of three active posts in Colorado. “As far as free speech goes, isn’t it very similar to the actual protests themselves?”

I thought so. The NFL thought not. But wait, the whole thing gets even better when you consider the working title of the NFL’s $90 million campaign to appease the protesting players and combat perceived social injustices: “Let’s Listen Together.” Good one, guys.

“The Super Bowl program is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl. It has never been a place for advertising that could be considered a political statement,” an NFL spokesman said in a statement released to media. “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.”

If there was any doubt, that’s where the NFL stands in 2018: politely asking U.S. citizens to stand for the national anthem could be considered “a political statement.”

“'Please stand’ is nothing different than what they say before each game: please stand for the singing of the national anthem,” Hutchinson said.

Here’s some more background on a story that shows how far the NFL will go to avoid media blowback for not being woke enough: the same ad (#PleaseStand) is scheduled to run in event programs published by the NBA, NHL and NASCAR, according to John Hoellwarth, the non-profit's national communications director. The going rate for a full-page ad in the Super Bowl program is $120,000, according to AMVETS, which was offered ad space at a significantly reduced rate. The offer arrived around 4 p.m. on the Friday before the Martin Luther King Day weekend, and AMVETS acted fast to beat the deadline to submit its ad (and then decline the NFL's request to change the wording of "#PleaseStand"). The NFL acted just as fast to shoot it down. 

“The NFL is the only one of the leagues who had a problem with it,” Hoellwarth said.

“The ‘please’ is just as important as the word ‘stand.’ We’re not insisting or demanding that people stand, or even pretending this is a matter of right or wrong. We know it’s their choice,” Hoellwarth added. “We’re just asking they please stand. I think the other leagues understand that. The NFL clearly doesn’t.”

For his part, Hutchinson, who spoke on behalf of the AMVETS post near Denver, has no designs on boycotting the Super Bowl. He coached his sons through 14 years of football and still considers himself an NFL fan.

“The NFL is a great source of entertainment for our country. And a lot of players in the league do a lot of good things for folks,” he said. “The main thing that I think is frustrating is when someone takes the one thing (the anthem) that is meant to unite us and turns it into a divisive force.”

The most powerful sports league in America was happy to dish out $90 million to appease the protesting players, but it wouldn’t accept a countering, paid ad from a non-profit organization that serves military vets. Let that soak in. And here’s a hunch if the NFL had just accepted the ad like its peers in the NBA and NHL, this whole what-have-you is a non-story. 

Smart folks recognize the NFL’s stance as more hypocrisy that appeases the noisy but rejects the reasonable. Maybe we can all pool together a few bucks for our own ad: #Pleasestoppretendingyouwantaconversation. It takes two.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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