The NFL rejected a one-page ad for the NFL’s Super Bowl program submitted by AMVETS with the message “Please Stand.” The veterans organization called that corporate censorship and said similar ads were accepted by the NHL and NBA for official programs for their all-star games.
“The Super Bowl game program is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told USA TODAY Sports by email. “It’s 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.”
Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, said players who protest by kneeling during the national anthem are exercising their free speech and that AMVETS only wanted to do the same.
“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” in which the organization conducts seminars in schools and with youth groups on the proper way to display, care for and respect the flag.
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McCarthy said a VFW ad for the Super Bowl program was submitted and later approved for a tagline that read: “We Stand for Veterans” with text describing benefits the organization offers. He said AMVETS submitted an ad last Wednesday with the line “Please Stand.”
“We looked to work with the organization and asked it to consider other options such as ‘Please Honor our Veterans,’” McCarthy said. “They chose not to and we asked it to consider using ‘Please Stand for Our Veterans.’ Production was delayed as we awaited an answer. As the program was going to production, the organization asked about including a hashtag” — as in #PleaseStand — “and was informed that approval would not be provided in time and was asked to approve the ad without the hashtag. The organization did not respond and the program ultimately went into production to meet deadlines.”
Chenelly said the ad would have cost $30,000. The league does not sell the advertising for the game program; a third-party publisher sells it, but the league approves what goes in the program.
Marion Polk, AMVETS national commander, wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, dated Monday, that says in part: “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.”
AMVETS, also known as American Veterans, styles itself as the largest and oldest veterans service organization that is open to all veterans.