Cleveland unions refuse to hold flag at Browns opening game

FILE - This Aug. 21, 2017 file photo shows members of the Cleveland Browns kneeling during the national anthem before an NFL preseason football game between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland. Unions representing Cleveland police and paramedics say they won’t hold a large American flag before the Cleveland Browns’ season opener because of previous player protests during the national anthem. The president of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees Local 1975 said Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 the protest has upset union members. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, file)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Members of unions representing Cleveland police officers and paramedics have said they won’t hold a large U.S. flag during pregame ceremonies prior to next Sunday’s Cleveland Browns season opener after a group of Browns players knelt during the national anthem before a preseason game last month.

Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, cited his service in the U.S. Navy when he told WKYC-TV he was astounded that Browns management knew of the protests but allowed it to occur.

“I am not going to participate or work with management that allows their players to disrespect the flag and the national anthem,” Loomis said.

Nearly a dozen Browns players knelt in a circle and prayed in silent protest during the anthem before a preseason home game Aug. 21 against the New York Giants. A smaller group of players placed hands on the shoulders of their kneeling teammates.

A team spokesman issued a statement at halftime that said the organization has a “profound respect” for the national anthem, the U.S. flag and those who serve in the military.

“We feel it’s important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression,” the statement said.

Dan Nemeth, president of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees Local 1975, said he had a similar reaction to Loomis’. He told Cleveland.com he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and finds it “hypocritical” for Browns management to say they support the military while allowing players to kneel during the anthem.

“When I was growing up, we were taught to stand every morning, put our hands over our hearts and say the Pledge of Allegiance,” Nemeth said. “And when we did that, we typically had someone holding the flag in front of the class. For them to disrespect the flag by taking a knee did not sit well with me.”

About 30 Browns players stood arm-to-arm in a line behind the rest of the team during the national anthem before an Aug. 26 preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A veterans group outside Strongsville said last week that it would not show Browns games because of the player protests.

The Browns’ protests are part of a social-consciousness movement started last season by then-quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became a polarizing figure for kneeling during the anthem.

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