Steelers game boycott gets support at local veterans clubs
Dart games and a pitch-in lunch replaced televised Pittsburgh Steelers football Sunday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Jeannette as club leaders opted to black out all NFL games in observance of Veterans Day.
“To tell you the truth ... I think it's a good idea,” said retired Marine Mike Butler, 35, of Jeannette.
Many veterans clubs decided to tune out the NFL to show respect for veterans after some football players knelt during the pregame national anthem to protest police brutality.
The Facebook page “Boycott the NFL” advocated not watching Sunday's NFL games to “honor our military, many of whom come home with a flag draped over their coffin.”
About 78,000 people “liked” the post to boycott this weekend's game, while the site attracted more than 250,000 people who “liked” the page.
The aroma of buffalo chicken dip, ham barbecue and mini pizza bites warming in crock pots filled the Jeannette club as the discussion of current events and dart games got under way about 1 p.m., the usual kickoff time.
Similar boycotts at two Lower Burrell veterans clubs were much more subdued.
At the city's VFW Post 92, only a half dozen members showed up during that club's NFL blackout.
Like the VFW, the city's American Legion post had fewer than 10 cars in the lot.
Robert Smith, 68, a VFW junior vice commander from Leechburg, would normally spend his entire Sunday watching football at home with family and friends.
But this Sunday, he sat in the club with a handful of people watching NASCAR races.
“I don't see anyone here with a Steelers shirt,” he said.
Earlier in the football season, the American Legion called the athletes who failed to show respect for the anthem as “misguided and ungrateful.”
It was clear that this weekend's blackout highlighted the animosity felt by veterans.
“Look, I'm all for the First Amendment ... freedom of speech ... but the players being allowed to kneel during the national anthem is not the way to go about it. It's like spitting in the face of those who fought and died for those freedoms,” Butler said.
Jeannette VFW Member Dave Devinsky, 48, supported the NFL blackout.
“I personally think it's a fantastic decision. So many soldiers sacrificed ... giving the players who are disrespecting the anthem the opportunity to earn millions of dollars playing football and yet they can't stand for the national anthem,” Devinsky said. “It's terrible.”
T.J. Sproull, 66, of Lower Burrell, senior vice commander of the Lower Burrell VFW, believes that by kneeling during the anthem, players are disrespecting the American flag.
“There have been so many troops who have died protecting that flag,” Sproull said.
Retired Marine Mike Butler Sr., 61, of Jeannette also agreed with the decision to tune out the games.
“I have no use for the NFL to tell you the truth,” he said.
Jeannette VFW Steward Lynne Butler, 55, said she anticipated a smaller crowd Sunday but received no complaints.
“People understood what we were doing,” she said.
Paul Peirce and Mary Ann Thomas are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Peirce at 724-850-2860, email@example.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib. Reach Thomas at 724-226-4691, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.