BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday there are “more effective ways” to protest than to refuse to stand during the national anthem. But Louisiana’s governor dismissed suggestions the New Orleans Saints should lose its state subsidies because several of its players won’t stand.
Edwards, a former Army Ranger, acknowledged that people have a right to protest, but he urged people to be on their feet for the anthem.
“I personally don’t believe the right thing to do is to kneel during the national anthem. I served in uniform. I think that you ought to render the appropriate respect to the flag and to the national anthem, and I think that there are other, more effective ways to protest,” the Democratic governor said.
Ten Saints players wouldn’t stand for the national anthem during Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. They were among a long list of NFL players around the country who refused to rise for the song during the latest games after President Donald Trump criticized players who kneel during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest racial injustice.
Two Louisiana lawmakers and Attorney General Jeff Landry are pushing to reconsider state subsidies to the NFL team because of the controversy.
Edwards resisted that idea Wednesday, saying Louisiana “must continue to meet its contractual obligations with the Saints.”
But the governor also spoke with Saints officials about the protest in Sunday’s game. Edwards wouldn’t provide specifics about what was discussed, describing the talks as an “effort to make sure we get this resolved.”
The governor said players have more constructive ways to express concerns without kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. He pointed to the Dallas Cowboys game Monday night. Cowboys players knelt arm-in-arm with the team’s owner before the anthem, then rose for the playing of the anthem.
“If the Saints could move in that direction, I think that everyone would be benefited from it,” Edwards said.
Republican elected officials in Louisiana have been talking of NFL boycotts and a review of the state spending on the team.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican, told local media outlets a day earlier that he wouldn’t attend Saints games and NFL events because of players’ refusal to stand for the anthem. Rep. Kenny Havard, a St. Francisville Republican, wants the state’s subsidies to the Saints to end.
“It is time the taxpayers quit subsidizing protest on big boy playgrounds. I believe in the right to protest but, not at a taxpayer subsidized sporting event. Do it on your own time. There are plenty of disabled children, elderly and veterans in this state that would appreciate the money,” Havard said in a statement Monday.
Louisiana no longer pays direct cash subsidies to the Saints as it once did, but the team gets many inducements from the state.
The Saints keep money from concession sales and parking at the state-owned facility, the NFL organization is exempt from state sales tax and it retains the revenue generated by the sale of naming rights for the Superdome. State agencies also pay what an auditor has described as above-market rates to rent office space from Saints owner Tom Benson as part of the lease agreement.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration negotiated the terms in 2009 as part of a package of incentives that replaced a previous state deal with the NFL team and ended direct monetary payments. The deal keeps the Saints in New Orleans through 2025.
GOP Rep. Valarie Hodges, of Denham Springs, has sent a formal request for the Legislature’s budget committee to look at the dollars the Saints receive. Landry, a Republican, weighed in as well, asking in a statement: “Why should the taxpayers subsidize with hundreds of millions of dollars a two billion dollar organization that allows the blatant disregard for our flag and our anthem?”
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