NFL protest: Veterans refuse to be right-wing props
This photo of 97-year-old World War II veteran John Middlemas taking a knee went viral after his grandson posted it to Twitter. Middlemas said, "Those kids have every right to protest." | Brendan Gilmore via Twitter after the man's grandson Brendan Gilmore posted it to Twitter. Fair use.

Matt Howard is co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The following is a message sent out to the organization’s members and supporters on Sept. 27.

This weekend, NFL players across the country responded a hundredfold to Trump’s attacks against their teammates protesting police brutality. From Seattle to Baltimore, players kneeled, locked arms, and raised fists to demonstrate their opposition to Trump’s hate.

And as nuanced as the situation is—with owners jumping at the chance to boost their own reputations while continuing to isolate Colin Kaepernick from the NFL—we’ve witnessed countless people in our communities forced to confront racism in a place they considered apolitical (an ironic thought for those of us who know that the Department of Defense has spent millions paying the NFL to perform patriotism as a recruitment tool during games). We’ve witnessed the very origins of the national anthem, penned by someone who owned enslaved people and who himself supported police brutality, being questioned.

At the same time, we’ve seen thousands of veterans choosing to express their support, even as the right once again attempts to dismiss dissent by claiming the actions are an affront to our service. We’ve seen hundreds saying that they don’t want to be used as props for dangerous nationalism, division, and hate.

A new member of ours, Shawn, said exactly what has been on many of our minds:

Iraq Veterans Against the War members march in Boston, October 2007. | Jonathan McIntosh CC-By-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

“As a veteran, my least favorite thing to see, read, or hear is people’s use of veterans as an excuse for their inability to confront their own racism, supremacy, or economic position, i.e. ‘We can’t accept refugees because of the homeless veterans; We have to stand for a national anthem because the veterans died; We can’t have health care when we can’t even take care of the veterans’…Want to support veterans? End the Military-Industrial-Complex and divest from the War Economy.”

Over the past few weeks, Iraq Veterans Against the War has continued our work to transform ourselves and our skills in service of organizing against militarism and white supremacy. We’ve shared tools with our movement partners and shown up in person for physical security, de-escalation, and scenario planning in North Carolina, Tennessee, and more.

As veterans, we know firsthand just how much damage our dependence on harmful security forces has caused, and we know just how important it is to take action with those communities demanding and demonstrating that another way is possible.


Matt Howard
Matt Howard

Matt Howard is co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Howard served in the Marine Corps as a helicopter mechanic from 2001 to 2006 and deployed twice to Iraq where he became deeply opposed to the occupations and discovered a commitment to social change work.