(KMSP) - More than 200 NFL players chose to take a knee during the national anthem at games across the country, re-igniting a fiery debate after President Trump blasted the athletes who participated. But for those who've served our country, these protests have special meaning, and that flag is everything to veterans.
Minnesota veterans said they risked their lives for people to either salute it or not.
On Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers player Alejando Villanueva stood alone during the national anthem while his team waited in the locker room. The former Army ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan had thousands of fellow veterans sending their support.
Veteran and former lawmaker John Kriesel said it upsets him to see so many athletes take a knee, but says it’s their choice to exercise that right.
“I mean, at one point I didn’t know if I would ever be able to stand again, so I’m jacked that I can stand and put my hand on my heart,” he said.
"I respect people's rights to protest it. I think it has to go both ways, and I think that's the problem…we are in a situation where we are forgetting how to disagree."
Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins said he was outraged by the president’s comments about those who took a knee.
"This is bigger than me. I have a daughter. She's going to have to live in this world, and I'm going to do whatever I can do to make sure she looks at her daddy and he did something to try and make a change," he said.
Meanwhile, it’s taken time for veteran Tom Cocchiarella to accept some of the reasons these players demonstrate. While he thinks there are more respectful ways to go about it, he also served in Vietnam to protect our freedoms.
"We do serve to protect the Constitution, to protect the amendments, to protect the freedoms of all Americans, and it's not right for me as a veteran that they do something that I disagree with to say they can't exercise that right," he said.
Governor Dayton said he doesn't approve of kneeling during the national anthem, but he defended the right of people to do so.
“I personally disagree with those who sit or kneel during the national anthem, especially sports figures day after day to counteract the efficacies they're speaking out against, but I don't disagree with their constitutional right to do so,” he said.
The governor went on to say we all owe respect to the flag, which is why he voted against the constitutional amendment to burn the American flag back when he was in the U.S. Senate.