Cleveland police, rescue unions won’t hold huge flag in NFL opener, citing Browns’ protest

Unions that represent Cleveland police officers and first responders will not participate in one of the annual rites that precede NFL openers, with leaders saying they were offended when Browns players knelt during the national anthem before a preseason game.

The head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association says that they have decided not to hold part of the gigantic American flag as part of the pregame ceremony at the Browns’ Sept. 10 opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Typically, players, first responders, politicians and military members join in, too.

“When management allows you to do those things, then that’s on them,” Steve Loomis, the police union’s president, told Cleveland.com. “It’s hypocritical of the Browns management and ownership to want to have an armed forces first-responder day, and have us involved in it when they allow their players to take a knee during the national anthem. That’s the very representation of what we stand for. That’s why we aren’t going to.”

However, a police spokeswoman noted that the union “does not speak” for the department. public information officer Jennifer Ciaccia told HuffPost. “The Division of Police is in no way boycotting the Browns,” public information officer Jennifer Ciaccia told HuffPost, “nor denying participation in events with our officers.”

The president of a union that represents EMTs and other first responders told HuffPost that it would not participate, either.

“The NFL brags about how they love the military and safety forces and everything that we do for this country, but obviously they don’t show it because they’re not setting forth any rules about [the national anthem],” Daniel Nemeth, president of a local branch of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees, said.

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A dozen Browns players took a knee during the national anthem on Aug. 21, with a white player for the first time joining in the protests that began with Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 preseason. The Browns specified that they were taking a knee in prayer.

“There’s a lot of racial and social injustices in the world that are going on right now,” rookie safety Jabrill Peppers said, explaining the message they’d hoped to send. “We just decided to take a knee and pray for the people who have been affected and just pray for the world in general.”

During their final preseason game on Aug. 31, Browns locked arms during the anthem and drew the support of management. “Professionally, thoughtfully, probably as thoughtfully as any others have,” Sashi Brown, the team’s executive vice president of football operations, told Cleveland.com last week. “These are guys that mean well. We really push our guys to be active and conscious about the communities they live in and what goes on around them that might be even larger than football. They do that, and we support them. We respect their efforts to use their platform to make some change and express themselves. And I think for all those guys that knelt initially and then last week decided to stand — I won’t get into why they made that decision — I think they are going about it in a very responsible and thoughtful way. I’m actually proud of them.”

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