James Wells

John Wells (via WWL-TV)

Due to months of controversy over players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem before NFL games, a Navy veteran has said would not be accepting an award during any Saints game. 

John Wells, a disabled veteran and executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, was slated to receive the Peoples Health Champion award during last week's game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Chicago Bears. 

"Although I am touched and honored to be selected for such an award, the ongoing controversy with NFL players' disrespect for the national flag forces me to decline to participate in the presentation," wrote Wells, according to the release. "I am unable, in good conscience, to enter an NFL stadium while this discourtesy prevails. Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it.”

The Peoples Health Champion program recognizes the "exceptional achievements" of Louisiana residents of ages 65 and older, according to its website. Each recipient is typically honored on the field at the Superdome during Saints games. 

Protests during the national anthem — focused on bringing attention to police brutality and racial injustice — have been a hot topic for more than a year, spearheaded by then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The demonstrations reached a fever pitch in Week 3 of this season, following remarks from President Donald Trump, who has called for the NFL to ban the protests. 

Wells echoed that sentiment in his statement, calling them a "slap in the face" to anyone who has served. All 32 teams participated in the Week 3 protests in some form, and several Saints players sat while the anthem was performed during a road game against the Carolina Panthers. 

Several local establishments responded by refusing to show the games, a Lafayette beer distributor said it would stop selling Saints and NFL branded point-of-sale items, and a Slidell Mardi Gras krewe disinvited two of the players who were seated — Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro — from being grand marshals in their January parade. 

There was also a call put out on social media to boycott the games over the protests, which have continued at a smaller rate by players on many teams. 

 EDITOR'S NOTE: Wells' name was originally listed incorrectly. The Advocate regrets the error.