An Ohio Supreme Court justice who also was a Vietnam veteran criticized the 12 Cleveland Browns players who kneeled and prayed in a circle to protest silently during the national anthem prior to Monday night’s game.
Bill O’Neill, whose family has served in the military for three generations, wrote on Facebook that he will no longer attend any games where “draft-dodging millionaire athletes” disrespect veterans, WJW reported.
“Shame on you all,” wrote O’Neill, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and Ohio National Guard and received a Bronze Star for his service during the Vietnam War. He also is a member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.
None of the Browns players who protested can actually be described as draft dodgers, since the U.S. military draft ended in 1973.
“Respect to all the veterans, respect to the military — we are not protesting against them. We have our reasons for doing what we did, and last night felt like the right time to do it, and that’s why we did it,” Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey told WJW on Tuesday.
O’Neill’s post attracted more than 350 comments and more than 1,000 shares. Some of the comments took the justice to task for not respecting the players’ right to peaceably protest under the First Amendment.
“I have been a fan of yours for years, but do I need to worry about free speech in Ohio?” one Facebook poster responded.
“How could anyone get a fair trial in your court if you denounce the constitutional rights you swore to uphold?” wrote another poster.
“No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech -- to do so is in violation of his rights under the Constitution and the NFL’s own regulations,” NAACP Interim President Derrick Johnson told WJW.
“I will not pay to witness the disrespect of the American flag. It really is that simple,” O’Neill answered back. “Yes, folks. You have freedom of speech. I also have the freedom of not paying $75 to listen to you. And if freedom of speech is so clear here, why not burn the flag on the 50-yard line?”