Slidell veterans' advocate turns down award at Saints games

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A retired Naval officer and military veteran's advocate has declined to be honored at the Saints-Bucs game in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Sunday.

Commander John Wells was to receive the Peoples Health Champion award for exceptional achievements after age 65.

"I admire them for what they're doing," Wells said. "I admire the award. I'm just sorry that the circumstances are such that I could not ethically accept it."

Wells added he won't walk into an NFL stadium, while players continue to protest during the National Anthem.

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Some players around the league are taking a knee during the anthem to shine a light on social injustice.

Although, according to the Saints, "Our players have chosen to stand for our National Anthem out of respect for the flag, our servicemen and women and veterans in every game since our inception in 1967 with the exception of one game - the Week Three game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit."

Wells, a disabled veteran claims protestors are dishonoring the military and the flag.

"They can do it," Wells said. "They have that right, no question. I've got the right to turn it off. I got the right to not go into an NFL stadium and I have the right to decline the award."

The Peoples Health Champions program in collaboration with the New Orleans Saints has recognized 138 Louisiana citizens since 2003.

According to a statement released by the Medicare Advantage company, "We will honor Cmdr. John Wells' request to decline the recognition. Given the time constraints, there will not be a new Peoples Health Champion recognized during the game on Sunday, Nov. 5.

Wells said while players may have a legitimate cause to bring to the public's attention, protests during the National Anthem is not the way to do it.

"I would be more than happy to go in and sit down with the players and explain my point of view," Wells said. "There are some things that we need to look at. Dishonoring the flag and the anthem is not the way to do it."

Here is the Saints full statement:

"Respectfully and honorably, we chose Mr. Wells for the Peoples Health Champion Award purposefully for this game to bring to light the exact issues that he and his organization represent- the health and wellbeing of our military, veterans and their families. Unfortunately, he has chosen very publicly not to accept this honor and refused the opportunity to promote the very cause for which he was being honored and distract from awareness we hoped to build throughout our community. We respect his decision, he has that right, and we thank him for his service to our country and his past efforts on behalf of the military and veterans.

"Throughout Mr. Wells' media appearances today, he has stated he no longer supports NFL football.  That is unfortunate and disappointing considering the New Orleans Saints' unwavering 50-plus year commitment to honor, support and recognize our servicemen and women and veterans. We will not allow Mr. Wells' decision and subsequent media appearances to distract our players and organization from continuing to honor and support our military and veterans.   We, as an organization, have decided to move on from this sad and divisive discourse and focus our attention on supporting our military and veterans.  In lieu of honoring Mr. Wells, we will use the time allotted for the Peoples Health Champion Award to highlight non-political military advocacy programs and encourage our fans and community to join us in contributing to these groups who directly support our military and veterans.

"Our players have chosen to stand for our National Anthem out of respect for the flag, our servicemen and women and veterans in every game since our inception in 1967 with the exception of one game - the Week Three game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit. We could not be more proud of the work our players do in the community and with our military, arguably a model program in the league.  Our players have been clear and steadfast in their support for our military and veterans - not just with their words but with their actions - including visits with the military at home and abroad. Just two days ago, Saints players visited the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse in partnership with USAA's Salute to Service Week. Their support for wounded veterans and their families and other meaningful engagement are normally conducted out of the public eye.

"If we are to be challenged about our dedication to the military, we then contend we are leaders when it comes to financial support as well as the thousands of service hours our organization and players gladly contribute to the military, including the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes, the World War II Museum, Louisiana Heroes Project, Operation Homefront, the Louisiana National Guard, the US Marines (Saints/Marines Bike and Toy Giveaway), the National Flight Academy and Bastion. We take enormous pride in our support of the military, the flag and our National Anthem. Mr. Benson, who served on the USS South Dakota in World War II, has personally donated to, and has been recognized by the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Navy where he was awarded the prestigious Lone Sailor Award, among other recognitions for his support of our military."

Here is Peoples Health's full statement:

"The Peoples Health Champions program recognizes the exceptional achievements that Louisiana residents have accomplished at age 65 or older.

"Since 2003, we have recognized 138 Louisiana seniors who shatter the myth that getting older means slowing down.

"We will honor Cmdr John Wells' request to decline the recognition. Given the time constraints, there will not be a new Peoples Health Champion recognized during the game on Sunday, Nov. 5."