NFL Pledges Donations To Military Nonprofits In Hashtag Campaign

League leadership has spoken out against ongoing kneeling protests during the national anthem.

The National Football League appears to be throwing even more weight behind those who interpret the #TakeaKnee movement protesting racial inequality as a sign of disrespect for the military.

The league announced on Sunday that for every use of the #SalutetoService hashtag on social media it would donate $5 to select military nonprofit groups. The campaign will benefit the USO, the Pat Tillman Foundation, which offers scholarships to veterans and their spouses, TAPS, which offers grief assistance, and the Wounded Warrior Project, which supports injured service members.

The #SalutetoService campaign comes in the wake of the controversy over the social justice #TakeaKnee protest.

Last season, former San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem as a way to call out racism in the United States.

Since the newest season began, many more players have engaged in the protest, galvanized by President Donald Trump’s criticism of players that kneel. During a political rally in Alabama, Trump decried the practice, saying that owners should fire players who do it. He said that owners should say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!”

But the movement has shown staying power despite the controversy surrounding it. A game held late last month saw the majority of Houston Texans players taking a knee after a controversial comment from the team’s owner.

Last month, league commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he believes “everyone should stand” for the national anthem, citing the importance of “honor[ing] our flag and our country.” But he said that the league wouldn’t force players to stand.

With the #SalutetoService campaign, Goodell appears to be going a step further.

Meanwhile, NFL players have requested a formal mediation with league leadership over the protest issue, CBS reported Sunday. The group insists that the talks include Kaepernick, who is taking legal action against the league for allegedly colluding against him. Kaepernick has remained an unsigned free agent since leaving the 49ers.

While the #SalutetoService campaign shows the league donating money, the NFL has received funds to demonstrate national pride in the past.

Between 2012 and 2015, the Department of Defense spent $6.8 million in taxpayer dollars in exchange for displays of patriotism during games, including flag ceremonies and honoring military service members.

A 2015 report by Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake slammed the practice as “paid patriotism.” In a 2015 statement, McCain dismissed it as a cheap “marketing ploy,” saying that “fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service.” 

Because players were generally not present on the field during the national anthem until 2009, some have suggestedbut not proven ― that the new tradition was part of the Department of Defense’s efforts.