NFL controversy felt in Twin Cities

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Richard Brown Jr. of Lewiston sits at the bar at American Legion Post 153 in Auburn on Friday evening, where customers discussed their feelings about last weekend’s protests across the NFL.

AUBURN — At American Legion Post 153, the sight of all those professional athletes taking a knee during the national anthem was just too much to bear.

“I had customers who just walked out,” said Sylvia Beaulieu, a bartender at the Legion on South Main Street. “They didn’t want to watch anymore.”

Richard Brown, a 74-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, was one of those customers.

“I said, ‘That’s it. I’m out of here,'” Brown said Friday. “It really upset me that the Patriots did that.”

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There’s a lot of that going around.

At local bars and restaurants, most managers said they hadn’t felt an impact on business yet. But of course, that may change this coming Sunday if there are further protests in the NFL.

The protests began when San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick declined to stand during the national anthem in protest of police treatment of African-Americans.

“A lot of people are pretty upset with the way things were handled,” said Kim Martin, a manager at Gridiron Restaurant in Lewiston, where football is aired on multiple screens. “I’m hoping they don’t do the same thing this week because it’s not going to be good for business.”

At Gipper’s Sports Grill in Auburn, Assistant Manager Eliza Lamontagne said there had been no dip in business as a result of the protests. At the same time, she has heard customers grousing about it, including one customer who stormed out on Monday when the matter of the protests appeared on a news program aired at the bar.

“I actually had someone leave because they didn’t want to hear about it anymore,” Lamontagne said. “It’s really hard to get away from.”

At Gipper’s on Friday afternoon, a 47-year-old patron named Jim said you can hardly blame people for getting aggravated about professional athletes playing politics during a pastime millions of people watch to escape the constant barrage of political bickering.

“It was a publicity stunt that backfired,” Jim said. “They need to get over this. These athletes are actors on a stage. They get paid exorbitant sums of money to perform.”

Jim particularly resents the murkiness of the protests — there is no single issue being protested, he said, so the sight of all those kneeling athletes was particularly aggravating and confusing, especially for children.

“Kids don’t understand what this is all about,” he said. “They see their heroes doing it so they think, I’m going to do it, too.”

At Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1603 in Auburn, a canteen manager named Troy said members there were also riled by the protests.

“We had people who weren’t very pleased about that situation,” Troy said, “to the point where we almost want to boycott the NFL.”

Like so many others, Troy said it isn’t the protest itself that’s causing so much irritation. It’s the context.

“There’s a proper time and place for that,” Troy said. “During the national anthem is not that time or place. People have died for our country and you’re disrespecting them. That’s the big thing everyone is talking about. Those guys are out there making millions of dollars. They’re not defending our country, but they can pull a stunt like that? That’s what people are having a hard time with.”

Back at the Legion, veteran Brown said that whether he continues to watch football this season depends on how the athletes conduct themselves from here out.

“If they don’t stand for the anthem, I’ll turn it off,” he said. “If they stand, I’ll watch the game.”

His son, Richard Brown Jr., agrees. The protests, he said, are just another way in which bitter politics are infesting what used to be leisure time.

“I understand the protesting, but I didn’t think it belonged there,” he said of last weekend’s football games. “People have to deal with politics seven days a week. You can’t even escape it by rooting for your team anymore. You’re bombarded by it.”

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