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Rep. Todd Rokita sends letter to Jim Irsay about NFL's rejected AMVETS kneeling ad

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Jan 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-31 12:00:34-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts aren't playing in the Super Bowl, but one Indiana lawmaker is trying to get the team's owner involved in a Super Bowl national anthem dispute. 

Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita (R-4th District) sent a letter to Jim Irsay, the owner of the Colts, encouraging him to speak to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to allow American Veterans' Super Bowl ad about standing for the national anthem.

The ad, which would've been included in the Super Bowl program, shows a military honor guard holding an American flag and the text #PleaseStand at the top of the page. 

After many NFL players chose to kneel in protest during the singing of the national anthem before football games, the ad called on players to stand. It also solicited donations.

Rokita's letter to Irsay, in part:

AMVETS' ad is a modest request for players to stand during the national anthem. In its rejection of the ad, the NFL said that the Super Bowl is not an avenue for "political" expressions, but the league has consistently defended the rights of its players to free expression when kneeling in protest during the anthem. In fact, in related comments on the free speech controversy, Commissioner Goodell said, 'A public discourse makes us strong.' I agree. The Super Bowl, watched by millions around the world, exhibits American principles and national character, and free speech is one of our most important ideals. The NFL should demonstrate our commitment to this fundamental liberty.

You have spoken eloquently of the NFL's exemplification of 'the spirit in which this nation was founded,' and your civic engagement is a testament to Hoosier values. In your capacity as an influential owner, you have the opportunity to stand up for free expression, our cultural inheritance, and American exceptionalism. I ask that you support airing this ad to defend free speech.

The NFL said it rejected the ad because it made a "political statement."

"The Super Bowl program is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams, and the Super Bowl," said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy in the statement. "It has never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement."

AMVETS National Commander Marion Polk released a statement saying: 

"We respect the rights of those who choose to protest, as these rights are precisely what our members have fought -- and in many cases died -- for. But imposing corporate censorship to deny the same rights to those veterans who have have secured it for us all is reprehensible and totally beyond the pale."

Some Indianapolis Colts players kneeled during the anthem before the Sept. 24 game against the Cleveland Browns. The team released a statement, saying they chose to kneel to raise awareness and continue "critical conversations about real equality, the injustices against black and brown people, police brutality, respect, unity and equal opportunity."

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