On the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, addressed a crowd of World War II veterans and survivors of the battle, offering platitudes on the “Greatest Generation” and their service during some of the country’s darkest hours at the outset of World War II.
Yet during his speech Wednesday, Harris also appeared to delve into current events, taking a dig at San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The professional football player has spent the past few months protesting police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem. Other athletes have followed Kaepernick’s lead.
“You can bet that the men and women we honor today — and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago — never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played,” Harris said, standing just yards away from where the USS Arizona battleship sank, killing more than 1,170 of its crew members.
Footage of the speech released by the Associated Press shows Harris’s remarks drew cheers and a standing ovation. The Pentagon’s official twitter account, @DeptofDefense, tweeted parts of the quote and the video to go with it. The tweet had 1,597 retweets and a slew of replies before it was apparently deleted. A cached version of the tweet is still available.
When asked why the Pentagon deleted the tweet, Gordon Trowbridge, a Pentagon spokesman said, “We deleted the tweet because we decided we didn’t want to weigh in on something that could be construed as political.”
In August, Kaepernick told ESPN that despite his apparent disrespect to the flag and the anthem, he holds those who serve the United States in high regard.
“I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone,” he said. “That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.”
In September, at the height of Kaepernick’s protest controversy, people posted videos of themselves burning his football uniform and the police union in Santa Clara, Calif., threatened to boycott 49ers games.
“It’s not really appropriate for an admiral to call out an athlete on exercising his right to free speech,” said Phillip Carter, a former Army officer and Pentagon official who leads the military, veterans and society program at the Center for a New American Security. “The greatest irony is that the military exists to protect free speech and it’s absurd for a member of the military to call out someone for using those rights.”
Carter also pointed out that the Pentagon has paid large sums of money to the NFL in the name of recruiting. Last year, it was revealed that the U.S. military had subsidized millions to the NFL for troop tributes during a games, a practice that was considered problematic by taxpayers and lawmakers alike. The NFL paid back $700,000 and promised to ensure in the future that military advertisements would not mix with tributes.
This story was updated with a response from the Pentagon.