The Georgia Senate unanimously approved a resolution Thursday condemning the National Football League’s “hypocritical actions” a year before Atlanta hosts the Super Bowl.
The measure, proposed by Republican state Sen. David Shafer, urged Georgians to stand during the national anthem and denounced the league’s decision to deny a veterans group advertising space in the official program for Sunday’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
And the swift vote seemed to catch many in and outside the Senate off guard. Several Democrats said immediately after the vote that they didn’t realize the chamber had just adopted the resolution, while lobbyists said they were stunned the measure was so quickly adopted and without debate.
State Sen. Steve Henson, the chamber’s top Democrat, said his caucus was “embarrassed the lieutenant governor would slip a resolution through in a deceptive manner.” Other Democrats privately said they were wary of being caught in a political trap on the measure in an election year.
The Atlanta Falcons and the NFL did not immediately comment on the resolution, nor did the Metro Atlanta Chamber or other business groups. But this is tricky territory for Georgia candidates.
Atlanta is gearing up to host next year’s Super Bowl for the first time since 2000 thanks to the new $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has close ties to Gov. Nathan Deal and a host of elected officials from both parties.
The governor said he was worried that it could send an unwelcome message to the NFL, even if he agreed with the resolution’s underlying meaning.
“I don’t think it helps,” he said, adding that he hopes it has “no negative impact” on the league’s Super Bowl decision. Still, he said, “I don’t think it hurts to let people and organizations know what they do is noticed.”
And though it might seem little more than an election-year effort to rev up the GOP base — Shafer is a candidate for lieutenant governor — it underscores long-simmering conservative tensions over NFL players who have taken to kneeling during the national anthem to highlight social injustice.
“When America’s veterans try to exercise their free speech,” Shafer said, “the NFL has no problem telling them to sit down and shut up.”
President Donald Trump nodded to the controversy Tuesday in his State of the Union address, praising a young boy in the audience as a reminder of “why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
The conservative frustration with the league escalated last week when the NFL denied the advertising space for American Veterans, also known as AMVets, after it declined to change language about standing for the national anthem. The ad includes the words “Please Stand” prominently.
Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who’s running for governor, said the measure was aimed at “recognizing our flag and our anthem and being very proud of our heritage here.” He said he was not concerned it could send the wrong signal to the NFL ahead of next year’s Super Bowl.
“I think there’s always a path forward,” Cagle said. “There’s divisive issues that arise, but we have to find ways to come together and move issues forward. And, certainly, degrading our country is not one of them.”
One of his Republican rivals, state Sen. Michael Williams, said shortly before the vote that “the overpaid crybabies kneeling during our national anthem no longer deserve my patronage.”
“I will not be watching the Super Bowl nor any other NFL games until serious changes are made,” he added.
The NFL fallout has also seeped into other political races. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster issued a proclamation asking residents to stand during the anthem at the Super Bowl. His top rival said a day later she “won’t enrich the NFL by even watching the Super Bowl.”
The two-page resolution is replete with barbed words aimed at the NFL. It declares the league “has abandoned even the pretense of supporting free speech and dissent” while at the same time “condoning organized disrespect and contempt for the flag of the United States and the national anthem.”
Hours after it passed, Senate Democrats were exploring ways they could try to reverse the vote.
“Many members of the body had concerns about this issue and how it was rushed to a vote without notice,” Henson said. “This is nothing more than an expression of an individual running for lieutenant governor who wants to play politics at the expense of individuals’ rights and human decency.”
Shafer, meanwhile, quickly tried to capitalize on the success of his proposal. He announced a new digital advertising campaign to launch Saturday on the eve of the Super Bowl that sharply criticizes the league.
“Week after week, the NFL allowed its players to disrespect our veterans,” he said. “It is time they showed respect for the flag, our fallen and all those who served on the front line of freedom.”