New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon ignited an outcry after telling fans if they don’t approve of his decision to kneel for the national anthem, “don’t come to the game.”
The retort came after Vernon, the only member of the Giants still regularly taking a knee, told reporters that he had been heckled by fans in response to his season-long protest.
“You hear ‘coward’ and ‘stand up’ and ‘disgrace,'” Vernon said. “It’s fine. As long as nobody comes on the field and touches me. You stay where you at, you’re going to be all right. They have a right. Oh yeah, I hear it all the time. If they don’t like it, don’t come to the game.”
His comments, which ran Thursday in the New York Post, stunned former NFL quarterback and CBS Sports commentator Boomer Esiason, who called them an “out-and-out disgrace.”
He pointed out that Vernon signed last year an $85 million, five-year contract with Giants owner John Mara, the richest for a defensive end in NFL history.
“Here is a guy you gave $80 million to basically telling your fans, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t come,'” said Esiason on WFAN radio in New York City. “It is the most egregious act of defiance. It just blows me away.”
The NFL has struggled this season with fan outrage and declining ratings over the protest, which began last season as a statement against deaths of black men at the hands of police and surged in late September after President Trump criticized the players.
Since then, the number of players participating has dwindled, with about 20 refusing to stand for the anthem in Week 12.
Esiason asked Friday whether Vernon realizes that he’s biting the hand that’s feeding him, given that NFL business model depends on fan support.
“Do you realize, Olivier Vernon, that you do not make the money unless the fans do come and buy the tickets and buy your jersey?” asked Esiason. “Do you not realize that when the TV turns on, there is a large swath of advertisers that buy around the league so that you can make the freaking money that you make?”
Esiason, who has long criticized the protests, added, “I personally think that the audacity of some of these players taking what is and should be an entertainment vehicle and using it for their own personal agenda is absolutely as insulting as it gets.”
After former game-show host Chuck Woolery tweeted out Vernon’s comments on Saturday, he was deluged with responses such as “Message heard loud and clear,” “Hey . . .WE ARE,” and “Done!”
NFL Kneeler to Fans: If You Don’t Like the Protests STAY HOME! https://t.co/g7NvAGhPzs pic.twitter.com/f6qeNCjCdV
— Chuck Woolery (@chuckwoolery) December 2, 2017
The son of a Miami police officer, Vernon has said that his refusal to stand is about “highlighting racial injustice and not about disrespect for the flag or the country,” the Post reported.
“I’m fine where I’m at right now. Ain’t nothing wrong with feeling bad for what you believe in,” Vernon said. “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. I stand behind my beliefs.”
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