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Disrespect or free speech?

When many NFL players didn’t stand for the national anthem at games this past weekend, it did not sit well with a vast number of football fans in Southern Oregon.

In a Facebook query, the Mail Tribune asked readers for their reactions to players who knelt or stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem.

A handful of players had been carrying out the protest begun last year by Colin Kaepernick over what he characterized as police brutality and oppression of African-Americans. The number increased into the hundreds — three teams didn’t take the field for the anthem — after critical comments Friday from President Donald Trump.

During a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said players — he referred to them as "sons of bitches" — who refused to stand for the anthem and disrespected the flag should be fired.

His comments and the players’ amplified protests in response set off a firestorm of reactions, including locally.

“What a disgrace the NFL players made this country look over the weekend,” wrote Jon Smith. “A bunch of over paid cry baby’s. I just turned the game off. They will not get my money.”

More than twice as many respondents were turned off by what they considered a slap in the face to the United States than those in favor of the players’ protest.

“Those that disrespect the flag will never see any money from my family,” wrote Verona Johnson. “The list of boycotts are growing.”

“Disrespectful!” wrote Jane Pagan La Pierre. “My fanatic football husband is boycotting – very sad.”

Jack William also had been a longtime fan.

“First time in 60 years that I’ve not watched a NFL game,” he wrote. “Got rid of my Seahawk gear too. Hello College Football!”

Others were quite succinct, writing simply, “I’m done,” or, “Boycotting,” with varying numbers of exclamation points.

Others acknowledged the players’ right to protest, but questioned how and where they did it.

“I spent 20 years defending that flag, so it bothers me to see anyone disgrace it or what it stands for,” wrote Carl Harsch. “On the other hand, I defended that right to protest, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. My personal feeling is that the NFL is using the wrong venue to protest racism (although I'm not sure how much racism those millionaires really feel).”

He, like others, noted that actions have consequences.

Lori Jordan agreed.

“Their choice to not stand,” she wrote, “my choice to boycott!”

And Brian Adolph: “... Viewership is already down, this could sink their ship.”

Ted Krempa made it clear where he stands. No NFL games on TV in his house in the foreseeable future, including the Super Bowl. No ticket purchases. No NFL merchandise.

“Nothing but a bunch of overpaid, under educated two-faced hypocrite, limousine liberal, (spineless), crybabies, with a phony agenda, every stinking coward one of them … including the owners for not firing their sorry asses.”

Others went different directions.

“I’m supporting our high school team,” wrote Terry Croft, who included a picture of the Crater High Comets.

Julian Cordle added levity: “Have you seen the Chicago Bears play? OF COURSE I’m not watching the NFL.”

A fantasy football player indicated he’s had enough and is considering benching his entire Black Tornado franchise on Yahoo “until the NFL recognizes its primary focus needs to be entertainment and until it removes disrespect for the country and politics from its workplace.”

A couple people might tune in to games because of the flap.

Barbara Curtis has boycotted the NFL because, she said, of the perceived blackballing of Kaepernick this season. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback remains without a team.

“... but I am very proud of the players who took a stand this weekend,” she wrote, “either by taking a knee or locking arms with their teammates. This protest isn’t about the flag or the anthem or the military or the president. It’s about police brutality and the systemic racism that feeds it. If someone can’t see that then they are choosing to remain willfully ignorant, and they are a HUGE part of the problem.“

In an email, Janice Martin, of Central Point, wrote:

“First amendment rights to protest are what our vets fought for. If you are fired for nonviolent protests, it is a violation of the Constitution. People need to stop making such a big deal about this and start working on the real issue — racism. It is not reasonable for Mr. Trump to call them out, to call them non patriots, etc. True patriots know when and how to protest and petition the government. Mr. Trump really needs to learn basic Constitutional law.

“We've come a long way since the 50's and 60's, but we have so far to go.”

Some people pointed out that the American flag is disrespected in many quarters, when it’s worn as a bandana, a bathing suit, a T-shirt. When it’s tattered and frayed from flying on the back of a truck, or when it’s carried flat, horizontally or vertically.

“... But we do them every day, without thought,” wrote Jenna R. Barrett. “If someone wants to take a knee for what the American flag ACTUALLY stands for, THAT’S what you choose to find as disrespect?”

“The flag is not us, it is a symbol,” wrote Kristiana St. Claire. “I do not respect Trump, and if I do not choose to stand during a god-driven anthem stating “respect” to the country, that does not mean that I do not respect the country. People need to calm the **** down.”

Judy Enida Sheldon re-posted a meme making the rounds:

“Thinking NFL players are ‘protesting the flag’ is like thinking Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation.”

More than one person questioned whether the president should be spending his time on this particular issue over other pressing matters.

“The president has better things to do,” said Harsch, “than meddle in this. He just can’t help himself when it comes to controversy.”

— Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com

The Dallas Cowboys, led by owner Jerry Jones, center, and coach Jason Garrett, second from right, take a knee before the national anthem Sunday night at the game against the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz. [AP Photo/Matt York)]
Some members of the Oakland Raiders sit on the bench during the national anthem before an NFL football game Sunday against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md. Raider head coach Jack Del Rio is pictured second from right. [AP Photo/Alex Brandon]