saints In their own words: Vets and service members respond to NFL protests in first ever survey

New Orleans Saints players  kneel prior to the NFL match between New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium on October 1, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

By Matt Saintsing

For weeks, NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem has dominated headlines, twitter feeds, and heated discussions. While there has been no shortage of people speaking for vets, there has been little effort to understand how veterans and service members actually feel about this cultural debate—until now.

The veterans organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) surveyed members on their opinions on the recent NFL protests. On Sunday, they released the poll data.

“Much of America is talking about the protests in the NFL. And many people are claiming to speak on behalf of veterans and troops,” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA, said in a statement.

“We wanted to give veterans and troops the opportunity to speak for themselves.”

And speak they did. More than 8,000 vets and service members responded, making this reaction the largest that IAVA has ever seen in their polling history.

Unsurprisingly, vets and active duty troops didn’t speak with one unified voice. When combining all the groups together, 62 percent of vets and service members disagree with the protests, while 35 percent agree.

What is more divided is how survey respondents plan to react to the protests during NFL games. 39 percent will not watch the NFL, because they explicitly disagree with the protests. 14 percent will continue watch the games, while disagreeing with the protest.

More than a quarter will watch the games and support the players’ right to protest.

A combined 18 percent will not watch the NFL, because they are not football fans. Interestingly, that group is split evenly with nine percent objecting to the protests, and nine percent supporting them.

But when it comes to the right to protest, veterans and active duty troops are nearly unanimous. 98 percent agree that NFL players have the Constitutional right to protest. Additionally, 62 percent said the First Amendment protects the right of athletes to protest during games.

The survey isn’t just a one-off. In fact, if IAVA conducted the survey 100 times, they would get the same results 95 times (for data nerds like me, the margin of error is +/- 1.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level).

While this survey is an important contribution to the larger national debate, it does not represent the larger veteran community. To be a member of IAVA, one needs to have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. So, any data obtained will most certainly skew younger vets who have served in the post-9/11 era.

Despite this critique, it’s refreshing to see someone is looking to vets and active duty troops to speak for themselves.

Connect: @MattBSaintsing |

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