In Leominster, a bar owner decided to take a hard pass on football Sunday afternoon.
Instead, Mike Cooley, the owner of the Monument Tap, turned on golf and NASCAR and brought in piano player Pat Perla to perform a selection of show tunes and patriotic music.
It was the bar’s own form of protest after eighteen New England Patriots players decided to take a knee during the national anthem before the Sept. 24 game against the Houston Texans.
“If everyone is still taking a knee then I’m taking a knee,” Cooley said by phone.
The Patriots’ players demonstration was a statement and a nod to Colin Kaepernick. The former 49ers quarterback’s claim to fame last year became refusing to stand during the national anthem to call attention to racial injustice and police violence agaisnt black people.
Players placed one hand over their heart and another on a teammate’s shoulders before the game Sunday.
During Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, the Patriots stood with their right hands on their chests and their left arms wrapped around their teammates
Last week, a crowd in Swansea burned Patriots team apparel Thursday night while brandishing American flags and singing patriotic music.
In recent weeks, President Trump fanned the flames surrounding the protests by calling for the suspension or firing of players who don’t stand for the anthem.
Cooley said he and other patrons felt disgusted by the protests, calling the display unpatriotic and an insult to the nation’s veterans.
“They’re supposed to be entertaining with football, not trying to take advantage of an audience of millions of people,” Cooley said. “We’re going to do this today. I’m not sure what the future will bring. It seems like the NFL has smartened up a bit to say, ‘OK guys this might not be working to our advantage.’ ”
On a normal Sunday, Cooley said the bar sees an average of 20 to 25 people. The afternoon he decided to turn off the Pats, he said nearly 100 people showed up in support.
On the bar’s website, he touted complimentary pizza, wings, and an American flag for each customer that came through.
Gabe Nutter, a US Army combat veteran who served in Baghdad, spent his Sunday afternoon at the bar in solidarity with Cooley’s choice to turn off the NFL. Nutter defended the player’s right to protest and freedom of speech, but felt the football field was the wrong venue.
“If they’re going to protest, they could be doing something out in the community by bringing awareness and advocacy to an issue like this,” Nutter said. “I’m offended as an American citizen who has the utmost respect for my flag and my country and what it stands for.”
Nutter feels it’s time to unite the nation to address police brutality and racial inequality.
“They started a national conversation,” Nutter said. “Where do we go from here to steer it positively to bring about effective change?”
Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.