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METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints released a statement Thursday saying it is “unfortunate and disappointing” that a retired Navy commander who declined an honor at Sunday’s game has been telling media outlets he no longer supports NFL football because of player protests throughout the league before and during the national anthem.

“We will not allow Mr. [John] Wells’ decision and subsequent media appearances to distract our players and organization from continuing to honor and support our military and veterans,” the Saints said in their statement, which stressed the organization’s “unwavering 50-plus year commitment to honor, support and recognize our servicemen and women and veterans.”

In the statement, the Saints also emphasized their players have stood for the anthem in every game since the franchise’s inception in 1967, with the exception of “the Week Three game at Carolina when a few of our players did sit.”
Since then, Saints players have chosen to kneel before the anthem in a display of unity, then stand during the anthem. Still, many fans have booed the kneeling players inside the Superdome even though the booing has not taken place during the anthem.

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Cameron Jordan touched upon this on their Twitter accounts Thursday, with Vaccaro writing, “Our crowd boos us before the anthem, therefore it’s not about the flag, it’s about the fact we are bringing awareness to a cause that makes people uncomfortable.”

Jordan tweeted about how fans have “ignored” the reason behind the player protests.
Wells, who is the executive director of the national Military Veterans Advocacy in Slidell, Louisiana, was selected as a Peoples Health Champion, an award given at Saints home games to recognize “the exceptional achievements of Louisiana residents age 65 and older.”

Since Week 4, Saints players have chosen to kneel before the national anthem in a display of unity and then stand during the anthem.

Since Week 4, Saints players have chosen to kneel before the national anthem in a display of unity and then stand during the anthem.

However, Wells declined the honor, calling the protests during the anthem a “slap in the face to veterans” in a news release and saying he could not “in good conscience” enter an NFL stadium.

“Although I am touched and honored to be selected for such an award, the ongoing controversy with NFL players’ disrespect for the national flag forces me to decline to participate in the presentation,” Wells said according to the release. “Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it.”

The Saints released their lengthy statement in response on Thursday afternoon:
“Respectfully and honorably, we chose Mr. Wells for the Peoples Health Champion Award purposefully for this game to bring to light the exact issues that he and his organization represent — the health and well-being of our military, veterans and their families. Unfortunately, he has chosen very publicly not to accept this honor and refused the opportunity to promote the very cause for which he was being honored and distract from awareness we hoped to build throughout our community. We respect his decision, he has that right, and we thank him for his service to our country and his past efforts on behalf of the military and veterans.”

The Saints went on to list the community appearances and financial commitments the team has made to military and related organizations, and to stress that owner Tom Benson — a former Naval officer — has been honored and recognized as a longtime supporter of the military. They said they would use the time at Sunday’s game that had been allotted for Wells’ award to “highlight non-political military advocacy programs and encourage our fans and community to join us in contributing to these groups who directly support our military and veterans.”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The NFL will look into why Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Thursday declined to speak to media, league spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN.

Team spokesperson Steven Drummond said the 2015 NFL MVP did not give a reason. Coach Ron Rivera also was unaware of why his quarterback did not participate.

“I just found out,” Rivera said. “I thought he had a press conference today, but apparently not.”

Star players are required to be available to the media during the week while in season.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton declined to speak to media on Thursday.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton declined to speak to media on Thursday.

Newton, until Thursday, had participated in every required media opportunity the past two weeks since he made light of a football question from Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue earlier this month.

Rodrigue took time off after the incident and was not at Newton’s other availabilities. She returned to the beat for the first time on Wednesday, when Newton normally holds his weekly news conference. He also did not speak that day.

Newton was at practice on Thursday and sat in front of his locker for more than 10 minutes playing loud music during the media open locker room session.

Players are subject to fines for missing media availability

Meanwhile, the Panthers could be without two of their biggest stars, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, for Sunday’s game at Chicago.

Kuechly was at practice with a helmet and cleats, but he remains in the concussion protocol, where he was placed after taking a hit to the shoulder and neck area late in the second quarter of last Thursday’s 28-23 loss to Philadelphia.

He was listed as a non-participant in practice on the injury report, despite participating in some individual drills during the portion open to the media. He did not participate in team drills during the media portion.

The injury report said concussion protocol on Wednesday, but it was changed to concussion on Thursday. A team spokesman said the change was made to be consistent with a past injury report.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter, citing sources, reported on Sunday that the team does not believe Kuechly suffered a concussion. McCarthy said if a “player is diagnosed by medical staff with a concussion, he should be listed as concussion.”

Outside linebacker Thomas Davis said it was good to see Kuechly running around at practice.

“Just understanding this situation is not like the other situations,” Davis said of Kuechly, in the protocol for the third time in as many seasons. “Seeing him bounce back as quickly as he has — he’s in a definite good place at this time. Just excited to see him walking around and healthy.”

Kuechly still has to participate in a full practice and be cleared by an independent physician to be eligible to play. Asked whether it was unlikely the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year would play on Sunday, Rivera said, “We’ll see.”
Kuechly missed three games in 2015 with a concussion. He was in the protocol for three games in 2016 and then held out the final three games as a precaution with Carolina out of playoff contention.

Benjamin did not practice for the second straight day, with swelling in his left knee that was surgically repaired in 2015.

“It swelled up from a shot he got the other day, so he went and saw the doctor,” Rivera said. “We’re a little bit concerned, so we’ll see.”

Rivera said if Benjamin doesn’t show signs of improvement on Friday then the team likely would make a roster move. Devin Funchess likely would step into Benjamin’s role as the “X” receiver, and rookie Curtis Samuel likely would see more time as the slot receiver.

Free safety Kurt Coleman saw his repetitions increased in practice after missing the past two games with a sprained knee. He was listed as limited on the injury report, but Rivera was encouraged by Coleman’s progress.