Ulster County sheriff Paul VanBlarcum stirred controversy this weekend with a post on the sheriff’s department’s official Facebook page calling for a boycott of the NFL over the Veterans’ Day weekend in to protest some players kneeling during pre-game performances of the national anthem.
The protests, which began with former 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season and have since spread to every NFL team, have inflamed debate nationwide. The players and their supporters say “taking a knee” during the anthem is meant to call attention to police brutality and other issues facing African Americans. Opponents have cast the player’s protest is disrespectful to the flag, servicemembers and veterans.
VanBlarcum entered the fray on November 11, Veterans Day, when he posted an emotional statement in support of the NFL boycott. “If you were ever in combat and were the last person to pull up the zipper on a body bag of your fallen comrade-in-arms, you would never think to be this reckless in your attitude toward the American flag. It just would not and could not be done,” the post reads. “If these fine athletes want to make a real difference without alienating our veterans, rather than taking a knee they should just not show up for work in protest!”
Van Blarcum said Monday that the text was sent to him by several friends who are veterans, and he chose to share it on the department’s official page.
Over the next few days, the post garnered hundreds of online responses both critical and supportive. Many responses called inappropriate the use of the an official Ulster County social-media account — usually used to tout arrests or advise the public of road hazards and school lockdown drills — as a political platform.
VanBlarcum dismissed the criticism. “It’s the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, and as the sheriff I have control of the content,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing because it gives the taxpayers a way to know where I stand on things.”