A 97-year-old US Second World War veteran has publicly ‘taken the knee’ in support of NFL players protesting during the US national anthem after President Donald Trump called for those who did so to be sacked.
John Middlemas, who served in the US Navy for 21 years as a submariner, made the gesture in a photo posted by his grandson on Twitter saying “those kids have every right to protest”.
The veteran’s intervention comes after scores of NFL players took a knee at the weekend as the US national anthem was played.
The gesture was started by player Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the anthem last year in a protest against shootings of black men by white police officers.
At the time only a handful of players followed his lead but Mr Trump reignited the controversy last week at a rally in Alabama.
He said: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he is fired.'”
Mr Trump has since said the issue is nothing to do with race but about respecting the American flag.
Mr Middlemas’s grandson, Brennan Gilmore, explained why his grandfather wanted to make a stand saying it came from “a strong commitment to social justice stemming from his deep Christian faith.”
In an interview with BuzzFeed, the 38-year-old from Charlottesville, Virginia, said he and his grandfather, who served in the Second World War, Korean and Cold wars, had been discussing President Trump’s stand against players who protested police brutality by taking the knee.
Mr Gilmore said: “Members of the military like my grandfather who risked their lives or fought for this country did not do so because of symbols like the flag or the anthem but because of the ideas those symbols represent, like freedom of speech, and equality and justice for all.”
He added: “Trump’s comments suggested that we should protect symbols at the expense of the values.”
The bend the knee protest reached these shores on Sunday when American football players staged a demonstration during a game at Wembley Stadium.
Two dozen players from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars went down on bended knee as the US national anthem was played while others, including the Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood and locked arms. Everyone on both teams stood for God Save the Queen.
The protest came after scores of players joined in the protest at games across America over the weekend and musician Stevie Wonder also went on bended knee during a concert in New York, saying he was “taking a knee for America”.
Yesterday President Trump tweeted that the row was nothing to do with race and said there had been a ‘tremendous backlash’ against the protesting NFL players.
On Monday White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended Mr Trump’s comments saying: “I think that it’s always appropriate for the president of the United States to defend our flag, to defend the national anthem and to the defend the men and women who fought and died to defend it.”