Joe Toma, who helped organize the jersey burning,

## ## up Fox Valley veterans burn Bears

Neither rain nor sleet nor a storied football rivalry could keep an angry group of local patriots from turning out on a dank Sunday afternoon during the Bears/Packers game to burn their football jerseys in protest of the way NFL owners have responded to the long simmering national anthem controversy.

Not only did some of these passionate veterans, ranging in age from mid 30s to upper 80s, toss their once beloved jerseys into a metal pit set ablaze near a pond on Aurora’s West Side, the charred remains were to be gathered up and mailed to the owners of the teams represented as a way to remind them of how angry some former fans have become.

I first learned about how upset local vets were about this controversy after meeting about a dozen of them last month. Joe Toma, who helped organize the jersey burning, had sent scathing letters to NFL officials expressing disgust because owners were allowing players to use their workplace NFL games “to dis the American flag.”

“This weekend, many of us will be gathering outside to retire tattered flags and boxing up our NFL jerseys to return to you (they might be a bit disfigured, however),” Toma wrote in an email to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has taken his share of flak in response to players taking a knee during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” before games as a way of protesting social injustices against minorities.

Joe Toma drops a football jersey into a tub full of other jerseys on fire. Veterans Advisory Council Chairman Joe Toma hosted an NFL jersey burning ceremony to protest the National Anthem controversy, Sunday, November 12, 2017, in Aurora, Illinois.(Jon Langham / The Beacon News)

Not all veterans agree with this stance. After that column ran, I heard from vets who insist the freedoms they fought for allow these protests to take place.

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John Slover, a Vietnam veteran from Sugar Grove, for example, said he has, “no problem” with the players taking a knee. “We have bigger problems with this country, starting with the current occupant on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said.

But veterans and other patriots, such as those who gathered in the cold during Sunday’s game, insist it’s not a freedom of speech issue; rather it’s about business owners allowing their employees to disrespect the flag and what it stands for while in the workplace.

Mike Wellington, Joe Toma and Julian Ordaz stand at attention as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Veterans Advisory Council Chairman Joe Toma hosted an NFL jersey burning ceremony to protest the National Anthem controversy, Sunday, November 12, 2017, in Aurora, Illinois.(Jon Langham / The Beacon News)

“I absolutely support what this group stands for,” said 87 year old Rich Gaffino, a Korean War veteran from Montgomery who was among the two dozen who braved the weather to attend the jersey burning.

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So does 69 year old Peter Horwath of Aurora, whose wife told me “he is suffering” because of the “hard choice” he made to tune out his beloved NFL games that he would normally be enjoying this season.

“Not this year,” Horwath said of his decision to boycott football. “Not with the way the NFL is doing things.”

Toma passed around a letter he’d just received from Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy the only response he has received from the 34 emails sent last month.

In the response, Murphy thanked the Aurora combat veteran for his thoughts and acknowledged he’s “received many letters on this topic.”

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Murphy went on to explain why the Packers supported the three players who initially chose to kneel during the national anthem, and how the team, after a long discussion before Week 4’s game against the Bears, decided to “stand during the anthem for the rest of the season and lock arms to demonstrate unity.”

“We fought for your freedom, but our brothers and sisters did not lay down their lives so you could disrespect the flag or our country,” Toma insisted.

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