STRONGSVILLE - Over the years, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Strongsville 3345 post has become accustomed to large gatherings for Cleveland Browns games.
That might soon change.
After multiple members of the Browns roster opted to kneel during the national anthem prior to the team's preseason victory over the New York Giants, VFW Strongsville 3345 decided to take a stand against its hometown team. Earlier this week, the post erected a sign announcing a new policy.
"We like our Browns - we love our flag more," the sign reads. "Your games will no longer be shown here. God bless America."
The sign has since gone viral on social media, having been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook.
"For us, it doesn't sit real well," Tim Zvoncheck, the commander of VFW Post 3345, told WKYC by phone Thursday night. "We understand that everybody has the right to free speech. Everybody has a right to their specific feelings. But we don't feel they have the right to disrespect... we're not going to stand for this anymore."
National anthem protests have been a hot button issue dating back to now-former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the anthem throughout the 2016 season in an effort to bring attention to what he saw as racial injustice in America. While Kaepernick is no longer employed by an NFL team, several other players have taken up his cause this preseason, including Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett.
The Browns' protest, however, marked the largest protest by a single team the NFL has seen yet -- and came a week after Cleveland coach Hue Jackson stated that he hoped his players wouldn't take part in such demonstrations.
Browns tight end Seth DeValve -- who became the first white NFL player to kneel during the anthem -- said it wasn't his and his teammates' intention to disrespect the military with their protest, in which they knelt in prayer.
While Zvoncheck said he respected the Browns' right to protest, he said that he didn't appreciate the manner in which the players went about it.
"We fought for the rights of everybody in this country. We joined the military to fight for the freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. We respect that," Zvoncheck, who served in the US Navy and Navy Reserve from 1983-1997, said. "But it has to be in a manner that we feel is respectful to us as well."
Zvoncheck said his post has received "100 percent support" since creating its sign, which has also received attention on local radio. He also noted that VFW Strongsville 3345 wouldn't rule out airing Browns games again in the future -- although only if certain terms were met.
"In order for us to change our mind, the Browns have to come up with a formal apology for what has taken place," he said. "They're going to have to show us that they respect this country and what that flag stands for."
Zvoncheck admitted that not airing Browns games could be detrimental financially, as watch parties have been some of the post's most popular occasions. But for VFW Strongsville 3345, it's a price worth paying.
"We're OK with that, because the membership supports it," Zvoncheck said. Plus, he added, "We have Red Zone. There are other games on. We'll be fine."
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