Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser says he is boycotting the New Orleans Saints after several players refused to stand during the national anthem on Sunday as part of a coordinated protest against social injustice and criticism from President Donald Trump about NFL activism.
Nungesser, a Republican who is the state's chief tourism promoter, said that he views the protests as "un-American" and offensive to the military.
"To know what that national anthem means to the veterans and their families ... If it hurts one of those families, it's not worth it," Nungesser said Tuesday by phone. He's currently in Germany promoting tourism. Later this week, he'll travel to London, where the Saints are scheduled to play the Miami Dolphins in Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Some Louisiana legislators are pushing for a review of the incentives that the state gives t…
Nungesser was to join the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau for pre-game festivities featuring Cajun and Creole dishes and other Louisiana touches, according to a press release his office sent out earlier Tuesday. But he told The Advocate on Tuesday afternoon that he'll no longer attend the game and is instead focusing on other activities to promote direct flights to Louisiana and other tourism efforts.
The Saints are estimated to contribute millions to New Orleans' tourism economy each year.
Nungesser said he used to be a Saints season-ticket holder and still typically attends several games a season, but won't attend any more as long as players continue with taking part in "take a knee" protests against racism as the "Star Spangled Banner" is played before games this season. He said that players have other times at which they can protest that isn't offensive to the military.
"It's just not the right thing to do," he said of the protest movement that has drawn backlash from Trump and some other Republicans in Louisiana.
NFL players across the country have been kneeling, prompting Trump, during a rally Friday in Alabama, to suggest that team owners should fire any "son of a bitch" who "disrespects our flag." He also urged fans to "leave the stadium" if they see players engage in such protests.
That set off a larger league-wide protest over the weekend. Ten Saints players sat on the bench during the national anthem, and four others stood near the group in a show of support before the team's win at Carolina.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is an Army veteran and graduate of West Point, has not commented on the fracas, but state legislators have weighed in on both sides.
State Rep. Kenny Havard, a St. Francisville Republican, on Monday called for the state to cut off the incentives the Saints receive under a 2009 deal, while Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, requested that a legislative hearing be held to review the handouts.
“When you disrespect the flag, when you kneel, when you raise your fist to that flag, what you do to me is very hurtful,” Hodges told group of conservative business leaders at an East Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce luncheon, drawing cheers from the supportive crowd.
“If we don’t take a stand now, you think about what happened back in the ‘60s, when people said we’re offended by people praying and offended by that Bible, get it out of here," Hodges said. "And we didn’t say anything and we let them do it because we didn’t want to be called a bigot. We've got to push back on this because the next thing that’s going to happen, before you know it, they’ll say just get the flag out of here. Don’t sing the Star Spangled Banner.”
Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, said he thinks it's a "great conversation" for state leaders to have.
"Why should the taxpayers subsidize with hundreds of millions of dollars a two billion dollar organization that allows the blatant disregard for our flag and our anthem?" he said.
Louisiana agreed in 2009 to cover $85 million in upgrades to the Superdome and enter into an ongoing lease of office space from Saints owner Tom Benson as part of a larger deal that runs through 2025. Under a previous agreement that expired in 2010, the team received $23.5 million in yearly cash incentives from the state with few strings attached.
Meanwhile, members of the Legislative Black Caucus have spoken out against the threats to Saints incentives as a response to player protests.
Nungesser said he has long felt strongly toward veterans' causes. He said he often paid for families to send care packages to soldiers stationed overseas when he lived in Belle Chase. He has a flag in his office that flew in Afghanistan that he received as a present after the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010.
"I will not be attending," Nungesser said of future Saints games. "I just think it's wrong."
Mark Ballard of The Advocate Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.