NY state senator invites Buffalo Bills players to Arlington National Cemetery
By TIM FENSTER | Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, N.Y. | Published: October 4, 2017
LOCKPORT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — New York State Sen. Robert Ortt is inviting Buffalo Bills players who kneeled in protest during the national anthem to join him and area veterans on a trip to Arlington National Cemetery next year, so that they can "see exactly why we stand during the anthem."
Ortt, an Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2008, extended the invitation mere hours after the kick-off of the Bills game against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 1. At least six Bills players -- Kaelin Clay, Cedric Thornton, Mike Tolbert, Shareece Wright, E.J. Gaines and Jerel Worthy -- kneeled during the national anthem.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the anthem protests last year, saying he was protesting what he saw as the oppression of African-Americans and people of color. The protests were thrust deeper into the national spotlight when President Donald Trump called on the NFL to fire players who protest by not standing for the anthem.
In response, about 200 NFL players either took a knee or sat during the anthem on Sept. 24, according to estimates from The Associated Press.
Critics say these protests are disrespectful to veterans and urge protestors to air their grievances at a different time.
Replying to a question to his initial statement, Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said he agrees that the demonstrations do not show respect for U.S. service-members.
"I cannot speak for any service members other than myself, but personally I believe it is disrespectful to our flag and to those who fought and died for it," Ortt said in a statement. "I fully support the freedom of speech and expression. But the moment that we all come together as a country and a people does not seem to be an appropriate moment for political protests by professional athletes."
Ortt extended his invitation to the entire Buffalo Bills team to join him next year for the Western New York Warrior Flight, which brings area World War II, Korea and Vietnam war veterans to see military memorials around the Washington D.C. area.
"But I believe that the players who continue to kneel during the national anthem would have the most to gain from the experience," Ortt added.
Ortt's office has yet to receive a response from either the team or individual players.
However, some activists who support Kaepernick's protest say it actually is intended to honor members of the military.
After sitting for the anthem during the first preseason games of the 2016 season, Kaepernick later began to kneel. Kaepernick claimed he made the decision after discussing the matter with Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and Army Green Beret who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Saladin Q. Allah, a member of the Human Rights Commission for the city of Niagara Falls, said kneeling is a sign of respect, noting soldiers kneel in front of the grave of a fallen comrade.
"When people look back and look at how these events took place, they'll see the narrative was hijacked, that it was a serviceman who suggested that Colin Kaepernick take a knee to begin with," Allah said.