EXETER (TNS) — Monday night’s football game had just about everything local fans could want.

Local favorites the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants were facing off. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was returning from an injury that cost him his season last year.

Former Penn Stater Saquon Barkley would be in the back field for the Giants.

But none of that seemed to matter at the Exeter VFW Post 6518. On the club’s two televisions? Reruns of ‘Law & Order SVU.’

As protests for racial justice intensify around the country, many athletes in leagues such as the NFL have chosen to protest by kneeling, raising a fist or staying in the locker room during the national anthem.

Reactions to anthem protests have been very split and very loud, as evidenced by the VFW’s decision not to put NFL games on at the bar.

“It’s not a Black or white thing. It’s a politics vs. non-politics thing.” said Sid Booth, the commander of Post 6518.

Booth said his decision was influenced by the fact that a lot of his members are veterans, men and women who fought for the flag. Some of the strictly-social members of the VFW want to watch the games, but to Booth, the vets come first.

“They [the vets] got to vote, and most of them don’t want to watch while they’re kneeling,” Booth said. “Their opinion is essential to me.”

Booth did acknowledge that they would likely vote again after seeing how much of a hit they take without some of the members there on football days.

The VFW still drew a good number of regulars on Monday night, despite the lack of football. The room was unanimous in voicing their support for the VFW, for Booth and for the decision not to air the games.

Richard Kutz Jr. and Bill Kull both served in the military, and the two vets both feel disrespected by the NFL’s protests.

“It’s not right,” said Kutz. “I served with Blacks, whites, Latinos, everyone. Some gave their lives for this country, and they’re being disrespected.”

“They need to stand up and put their hand over their heart for the anthem,” Kull said.

A few more VFW members offered their thoughts on everything from the protests, to racism, to police violence and just about every other important issue facing the nation.

“These guys are millionaire athletes, they’re not oppressed,” said one man. “They should use that money to make change, but do it before or after the game.”

One bargoer acknowledged that it wasn’t just the NFL protesting during the anthem, displaying a picture of his Boston Red Sox jersey burning.

“I’ve been a Sox fan for 20 years, not anymore,” he said. “I’m done watching professional baseball, too.”

Booth wasn’t sure of the best way for players to protest without doing something he believes disrespects the flag and the soldiers who fought for it. He’s not anti-protest at all. He, like the VFW members, just wants the protests to stop coming at the expense of the flag and the vets.

“It’s not a simple fix, there’s no right answer,” Booth said. “But what they’re doing is wrong.

“I think it’s best to keep politics out of sports.”

— Tribune News Service

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