Brainerd airport commission takes stand against kneeling during national anthem

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BRAINERD, Minn. — Members of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission spoke out Thursday, Oct. 5, against national anthem protests in the NFL while discussing air travel during the upcoming Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

Airport director Steve Wright recently attended a meeting with the St. Cloud Regional Airport about planning for the upcoming Super Bowl. Planners are making sure the Metropolitan Airports Commission can handle the increased air traffic associated with the Super Bowl, he said.

Metro-area airports should be able to handle the increased traffic, Wright said. But planners are contacting airports in the second tier in case weather affects air traffic into the Twin Cities, he said. The second tier includes airports in St. Cloud, Brainerd, Rochester, La Crosse, Wis., and Eau Claire, Wis.

If weather affects air travel into the Twin Cities area, flights could be sent to Brainerd, Wright said. It would only happen if weather caused flights to be rerouted, he said.

Commission member Jeff Czeczok made a motion Thursday to protest these flights potentially coming to Brainerd until the NFL enforces its rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem before games. The motion failed for lack of a second, but not before nearly all commission members said they agree with Czeczok.

The 2017 NFL rulebook includes no mention of the national anthem. According to an August 2016 article from Mike Florio on NBC Sports, the NFL in a statement said players are encouraged but not required to stand during the national anthem. The league's collective bargaining agreement makes no mention of a rule requiring players to stand during the national anthem.

Czeczok linked the Super Bowl flights to the national anthem protests taking place before NFL games. The protests started during the 2016 season with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sitting, and then kneeling, during the national anthem. Kaepernick said his action was an act of protest against racism and police brutality in the U.S. He is now a free agent and has yet to sign with a team.

During the 2016 NFL season, about 20 players joined Kaepernick in protesting during the national anthem in some form. These protests included sitting, kneeling or raising a fist during the national anthem.

During a Sept. 23 rally in Huntsville, Ala., President Donald Trump blasted NFL players protesting during the anthem. He called the protests disrespectful and called on team owners to fire any players who protested.

During Sept. 24 games, teams displayed unity against Trump's comments. This included more players kneeling during the anthem, raising fists or linking arms with other players while standing or kneeling. Owners took part in some of these demonstrations and a few teams remained in the locker room while the national anthem was played.

Czeczok said Thursday he is disgusted by what he sees happening in the NFL. He mentioned Brainerd's close connection with the Bataan Death March during World War II and all of the men who died with the flag on their shoulders.

"I just would like to remind the people sitting at this table that, you know, we have a national organization that has team members kneeling down during our national anthem," Czeczok said.

Commission chair Don Jacobson said he didn't disagree with what Czeczok was trying to do, but thought he was going about it in the wrong way.

Commission member Marty Johnson said he agreed with Czeczok and he doesn't have a problem with protesting, just not during the national anthem.

Sponsors are pulling their support from the NFL, Johnson said, which is attracting attention. The players are protesting because of the increased attention it brings, he said.

"As long as the film crews and the media keep spotlighting the fact that this guy didn't stand and this guy didn't stand, they're going to keep doing it," Johnson said. "The media is the problem."

According to a Sept. 27 article in The New York Times rounding up statements from NFL sponsors, no sponsors have ended their relationships with the NFL. Companies like Nike, Under Armour, Bose, Ford, Hyundai and Anheuser-Busch issued statements supporting the flag and the freedom of expression. An Oct. 4 article on NJ.com notes only a handful of advertisers have pulled out of NFL broadcasts and all but one are local advertisers.

Commission member Paul Thiede, a veteran, said he appreciated Czeczok's intent.

"The NFL is suffering for its actions right now," Thiede said. "And I think they're going to self-inflict some discipline into themselves."

Commission member Trudi Amundson said she agreed with Czeczok, but the commission meeting wasn't the correct venue. Commission member Kevin Stunek was the only member who didn't comment on Czeczok's motion.