Some Patriots players chose to kneel in protest of racial injustice during a game in September after inflammatory tweets by President Trump. (CJ Gunther/EPA-EFE)

The NFL has rejected an advertisment a veterans group wanted to run in this year’s Super Bowl program. The ad asked for donations to American Veterans, an organization that aims to “enhance and safeguard the entitlements” for those who have served in the U.S. military, but it was marked by large lettering conveying a message relating to the league’s player protests during the national anthem: “Please Stand.”

The message, expressed as a hashtag, was problematic for the NFL, which said in a statement that the Super Bowl has “never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement.” In response, American Veterans, or AMVETS, decried what it saw as “corporate censorship.”

In a recent letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, AMVETS national commander Marion Polk said that while his group was “well aware of the controversy surrounding players kneeling during the national anthem and the public relations problems this has caused the NFL, our ad is neither a demand nor a judgment upon those who choose to kneel.” Polk said the ad was “a simple, polite request that represents the sentiment of our membership, particularly those whose missing or paralyzed limbs preclude standing.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said (via the AP) that the league exercised its editorial control over contents of ads in the Super Bowl program, which is produced by a third-party publisher. He said that another military-related group, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, was able to run an ad with the message, “We Stand for Veterans.”

The league asked AMVETS to consider other options for its message, such as “Please Honor our Veterans” and “Please Stand for Our Veterans,” according to McCarthy, and it delayed production on the program while it waited for a response. “The organization did not respond and the program ultimately went into production to meet deadlines,” he said.

“Freedom of speech works both ways,” Polk said in the letter, noting that the NBA and NHL allowed “Please Stand” ads to run in their respective programs. “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.”

“The NFL said it does not want to take a position on that,” Joe Chenelly, the national director of the Lanham, Md.-based group, told Star and Stripes. “Really, by not letting us run an ad, we think they are taking a position.”

McCarthy said the program “is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl,” adding that 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.”

“Mr. Goodell, veterans are good for more than just military aircraft flyovers, photo opportunities during halftime, or props to sell camouflage-style NFL apparel; although, the NFL’s stance on not allowing the veterans’ unfiltered voice to be heard says otherwise,” Polk wrote.

The Super Bowl is set to take place Feb. 4 between the Patriots and the Eagles. Neither team has had players stage protests in recent weeks, with Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins having abandoned his practice of raising a fist during the anthem in early December, after the NFL agreed to provide approximately $90 million social causes deemed important by players.

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