NEW ORLEANS – A retired Navy officer set to be honored at a Saints game Sunday declined the award, citing controversy over the National Anthem at football games.

Former Commander John Wells, a disabled veteran and Executive Director of Military Veterans Advocacy, said in a statement released Thursday he could not accept the Peoples Health Champion Award while protests are continuing at NFL games.

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"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 wrote to executives at Peoples Health and the New Orleans Saints organization according to a release. "I am unable, in good conscience, to enter an NFL stadium while this discourtesy prevails. Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it.”

Wells said he hoped the NFL would outlaw the protests.

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“Their failure to act is a slap in the face to all of those who have served in uniform,” Wells wrote. “Men and women have fought and died for the flag that the players are disrespecting."