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New Orleans Saints players sit on the bench during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) ORG XMIT: NCCB101

Associated Press Photo by Bob Leverone< p>

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser did everything he could to block New Orleans officials from removing statues of Confederate icons from the city's streets, even going so far as to plead for presidential intervention.

Nungesser's belief that they should have stayed up is not a universally held opinion, certainly not in New Orleans, where six of seven City Council members voted for Mayor Mitch Landrieu's request to remove them.

But he's allowed to have it, just like he's allowed to label recent protests by some Saints players against racial injustice as "un-American" and to boycott the team's games.

That's one of the great things about the country Robert E. Lee and the rest took up arms to leave.

Nungesser and anyone else has the right to object to the players' choice of time and venue for the protest, during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games — although the conversation about what's appropriate should certainly start with President Donald Trump's gratuitously divisive decision to label these players sons of bitches, and calling for them to be fired. That's what prompted so many players to join what had previously been a limited movement, and what caused many more of their peers, coaches and team owners to stand up for their right to do so.

Same goes for Attorney General Jeff Landry, who predictably jumped on a fringe legislative bandwagon and raised the prospect of cutting off state payments to the team.

"Why should the taxpayers subsidize with hundreds of millions of dollars a $2 billion-dollar organization that allows the blatant disregard for our flag and our anthem?" Landry asked. One obvious answer is that the state and the team have a contractual relationship, which is something Louisiana's chief lawyer should understand.

But at least you'd hope these officials and those who agree with them, who take offense that a player would seek to make a statement by sitting out part of the usual pregame ritual, might watch exactly what they're doing and listen to what they're saying before passing harsh judgment.

These players have not interfered with anyone else's right to participate in the anthem or salute the flag. They have not disrupted a single play of a single game.

What they have done is put their own standing on the line to draw attention to instances of racial injustice, including at the hands of some members of the police, that continue in America today. We can debate how widespread these instances are, but it's hard to follow the news and deny that they exist.

They have not trashed their country, and in many cases have talked of loving it, appreciating the opportunities it's provided and honoring the troops that protect it. Instead, they're calling on it to live up to its foundational ideals.

To say they're just acting like spoiled millionaires is to disregard the risk they're taking to their own livelihoods by speaking out. Colin Kaepernick, who started the movement, is a NFL-caliber quarterback without a job. The Saints' Kenny Vaccaro, who sat during last week's national anthem, is now losing funding for his foundation's efforts to help improve literacy and educational opportunities for disadvantaged youths. He said one reason he's participating in the protests is because athletes like him have the platform to bring attention to concerns that run deep in African-American communities.

There's actually a long history of that in pro sports, of African-American athletes using their positions to advocate for those with less power and cultural cachet. There's also a long history of these athletes first making people uncomfortable, but ultimately helping bring awareness and usher in change.

Fans are free to walk away, to vote with their wallets, as Trump implored them to do and as many apparently are doing. But if they respect the players they've spent years cheering for each Sunday as people, not just players, the least they can do is hear what they have to say.

After all, it's a free country for them too.

Email Stephanie Grace at sgrace@theadvocate.com.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.